U.S. lawmaker Meehan resigns following sexual harassment claim

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Representative Patrick Meehan, who used taxpayer money to settle a former staffer’s sexual harassment claim, resigned on Friday from the House of Representatives and said he would repay the U.S. Treasury.

Meehan announced in January he would not seek re-election after a $39,000 payment to a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment became public.

Meehan said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Friday that he believes he would have ultimately been exonerated by the House Ethics Committee.

“I recognize that there are constituents who are disappointed in the manner in which I handled the situation that lead to my decision not to seek re-election and wish I had done better by them,” Meehan wrote.

Meehan, 62, is a married father of three who has represented his southeastern Pennsylvania district since 2011.

Meehan’s payment was first made public by the New York Times amid a wave of harassment and abuse claims against well known men in entertainment, the news media and government since last year.

Meehan has said in interviews that he considered the former aide, who is decades younger than him, his “soul mate.” He has denied that his behavior escalated to harassment.

Meehan used official congressional office funds to pay what he calls the $39,000 “severance payment.”

There is a separate, official House fund, also funded by taxpayers, that pays harassment and discrimination settlements.

Meehan has said he received Ethics Committee approval to use office funds. At the time, Meehan was a committee member. Ryan removed Meehan from his ethics post after the allegations became public.

Meehan said he would pay $39,000 to the Treasury within 30 days.

Meehan’s payment to the staffer, whose name has not been made public due to a nondisclosure agreement, would likely show up as a salary payment in House records months after it was made.

Campaign finance law allows lawmakers to use campaign funds for office-holder expenses, including lawsuits that relate to their candidacy or status as a lawmaker.

“It’s a really a close call and could go either way,” Campaign Legal Center’s Adav Noti said on the question of whether the Federal Election Commission would allow the use of campaign funds to pay harassment claims or severance payments.

Meehan’s campaign account had more than $2 million on hand as of March 31. His office did not respond when asked whether he would use personal funds to repay the Treasury.

Reporting By Amanda Becker; editing by Clive McKeef