Disgraced ex-Texas congressman takes lucrative lobbying post

In this Dec. 19, 2017, file photo, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold does not want to give testimony in a Texas Open Meetings Act lawsuit between the Victoria Advocate and his employer, the Calhoun Port Authority.

 Tuesday, Farenthold’s lawyer wrote to the judge that the documents the newspaper has asked Farenthold to supply so far show its questions of Farenthold will be irrelevant to the subject of the lawsuit — whether the port should have specifically notified the public that it was meeting in closed session May 9 to discuss hiring the former congressman.

The lawyer wrote it has been well-established that Farenthold is a high-profile person and attached a letter Farenthold wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott. In the letter, Farenthold objected to Abbott publicly deriding the former congressman for using $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint.

“It’s painfully obvious that the only reason to depose this non-party is to embarrass Mr. Farenthold and to invade his privacy with a matter that has long since been settled,” Farenthold’s attorney, John C. Dulske, of San Antonio, wrote.

The letter from Farenthold to Abbott is dated May 2. In it, Farenthold, who now works for the port as a lobbyist for $160,000 a year, laments falling out of the favor of the governor and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.

John Griffin, a Victoria attorney who is representing the Advocate in this matter, said Tuesday that what Farenthold’s attorney wrote to the judge could help establish the legal point the newspaper is trying to make.

“The fact that former Congressman Farenthold describes the public spat he was having with the Speaker of the House, the governor of Texas, as well as the public outcry about that, makes it obvious that the public was entitled to notice about the port hiring him,” Griffin said.

A key purpose of the Open Meetings Act, he added, is to allow the public to intervene to prevent governmental bodies from making decisions that could be regarded as misguided or mistaken.

And Farenthold is still not in Abbott’s good graces.

“The governor stands by his original statement, yes,” MacDonald Walker, a spokesman for Abbott, said Tuesday regarding Abbott’s comments that Farenthold “wrongly” used taxpayer money.

Since the public learned May 15 of Farenthold’s hiring, it’s unclear what work he has done for the port.

In response to a Texas Public Information Act request for copies of “any and all job descriptions, time sheets, or other documentation of work performed by Farenthold,” the port supplied the newspaper with two emails Farenthold sent to Port Director Charles Hausmann. In the emails, Farenthold opined that he shouldn’t have to register as a lobbyist with the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and secretary of the U.S. Senate. Hausmann could not be reached by deadline Tuesday to clarify if that is indeed all the work Farenthold has performed for the port.

Farenthold’s attorney also is arguing that, if Farenthold does give testimony, it should be given in Bexar County, partly because that’s where Farenthold was served a subpoena. But the person who answered the door at Farenthold’s Corpus Christi home referred the Advocate to his lawyer when it attempted to serve him. His lawyer then accepted service by email.

A hearing before District Judge Bobby Bell in Victoria to determine this and other matters in the case is still scheduled for 9 a.m. July 18.

The port’s attorney, Bill Cobb, of Austin, also couldn’t be reached Tuesday to say whether the port agrees with Farenthold’s assessment of the case.

This story was updated to correct the day of the week the Advocate interviewed Griffin.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest has done a little bit of everything since moving to Victoria in 2012. She was a regular fixture in the Crossroads’ historic courthouses, but now slathers on the sunscreen to report on the environment.

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