Farenthold contends he hasn't 'done anything wrong'

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Dec. 13, 2017 at 10:12 p.m.
Updated Dec. 14, 2017 at 10:28 a.m.

Congressman Blake Farenthold speaks to community members, media, staff and family during a Skype call hosted by the Victoria Chamber of Commerce at the Emerging Technology Complex.

Congressman Blake Farenthold speaks to community members, media, staff and family during a Skype call hosted by the Victoria Chamber of Commerce at the Emerging Technology Complex.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

Congressman Blake Farenthold, plagued by allegations of sexual harassment that recently re-emerged, sat down in front of his computer in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to take questions from his Crossroads constituents via Skype.

He didn't face a tough crowd because only one attended the Skype call that the Victoria Chamber of Commerce schedules monthly or as Farenthold's schedule allows.

After describing the GOP's tax reform bill going into a conference committee as a "huge, huge win" and assuring the one constituent in the room that the vast Texas and Florida delegations will ensure Texas gets adequate relief after Hurricane Harvey, Farenthold addressed what he described as the "elephant in the room."

Politico recently reported that Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a 2014 sexual harassment lawsuit brought by his former communications director, Lauren Greene, and this week, the Houston Chronicle reported other staffers complained about his office's toxic culture in 2016.

Wednesday, Farenthold continued to deny any wrongdoing, even after calls from within in his party and his hometown paper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, for his resignation.

"There's no reason to resign when I haven't done anything wrong," Farenthold said by Skype.

He said he continues to try to get a loan to repay taxpayers for the settlement amount. He said the Congressional Accountability Act, which he now vows to reform, barred him from paying the settlement out of his own pocket initially.

"We're not even sure how to give it back. I think what it's going to end up being, the payback mechanism, is me making a donation to the government," he said.

Before taking questions, Farenthold said, "I will confess that I treated my employees a lot like friends and less like employees, and what I've learned out of this is you've got to be a lot more professional in how you operate the office."

Later, his current communications director, Stacey Daniels, forwarded the Victoria Advocate a letter signed by six female staffers and associates of Farenthold who wished "to confidently state that he has always treated us with dignity and respect."

The contest for his seat, District 27 of Texas, has widened since Politico's reporting to include seven candidates whom Farenthold will face in the primary alone.

Wednesday, Michael Cloud, a challenger from Victoria, earned the endorsement of former Congressman and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul.

"I worked with Michael when he served in the Victoria Young Republicans Club, and again when he was chairman of the Victoria County GOP. I know him to be a man of his word, principled, trustworthy and hardworking," Paul is quoted as saying in a news release from Cloud's camp. "I hope my former supporters will get behind him because our country desperately needs leaders with integrity, courage and moral character. Michael Cloud is that kind of leader."

Paul could not be reached for comment Wednesday to see whether he's endorsed Farenthold in the past.

Cloud said he got into the race in October, before the other candidates, because he thought Farenthold was becoming part of Washington D.C.'s self-serving culture.

"I was at a town hall meeting (two years ago) when he justified excluding himself and his staff from Obamacare and while I disagree with the law, I don't think as a congressman, I or anyone else, should have any special privileges," Cloud said.

Cloud also said the OPEN Government Data Act Farenthold has been touting should not exclude the Office of Government Accountability and the Federal Elections Commission as it does now.

Cloud said Farenthold betrayed his and other constituents' trust when he used the taxpayer dollars to settle Greene's claim against him. And while he didn't join others in calling for Farenthold's resignation, he said Greene's claims, if proven true now that they're getting a second look, "would be beneath the dignity of that office or any office or workplace for that matter."

Later, Cloud added, "He's obviously known about the law (the Congressional Accountability Act) for quite some time now and hasn't done anything about it yet, so his motivation (to reform it) seems to not be out of principle, but out of the fact that it's come to light."

The one constituent who attended the Skype call was John Crews, a real estate agent from Victoria.

Crews asked Farenthold about net neutrality, whether he'd support lowering the minimum wage and modifying child labor laws to get more young people working summer jobs and what he's doing to reduce the number of single parent families in America.

Farenthold handled each of Crews' questions with the poise of a seasoned politician. He was elected in 2010.

He explained he thought the Federal Trade Commission had done a good job of stopping internet service providers of slowing down service for Netflix and streaming and would do so again if given the chance. He also explained how Crews' latter two requests would have legal hurdles to clear but were being addressed in other ways.

Afterward, Crews said he'll likely vote for Farenthold again.

"I need to know what the case is before I make a judgment," he said about the 2014 lawsuit Farenthold settled.


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