WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold settled a sexual harassment claim brought by a former staffer with $84,000 in taxpayer funds, according to a Politico report published Friday.

Farenthold, a Republican from Corpus Christi, has served in the U.S. House since 2011. The settlement stems from a 2014 case brought by Lauren Greene, a former Farenthold staffer. Both parties agreed to drop the case in 2015, but the terms of the settlement were not clear at the time.

After Politico published its report Friday, Farenthold said in a statement, "While I 100% support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question."

Farenthold's settlement is a small part of a much larger well of money used to settle workplace issues stemming from the U.S. House. On Capitol Hill, more than $17 million in taxpayer funds has been spent since 1997 to settle all kinds of workplace disputes — among them sexual harassment.

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The fund, managed by the Office of Compliance, is under heightened public scrutiny following a wave of sexual assault accusations against members of Congress. The account was meant to protect the workplace rights of congressional staffers. But by keeping cases confidential, critics say the public money is being used to shelter the unnamed sexual harassers, potentially endangering more victims. 

Following Friday's report, Farenthold drew sharp criticism from some Texas Republicans, including Michael Cloud, a former Victoria County GOP chairman and the only Republican currently challenging Farenthold in next year's Republican primary.

“If allegations prove true, this represents a gross betrayal of the public trust — and highlights the need to elect people of integrity who will work to restore public confidence in our halls of Government,” Cloud said.

Others, such as Nueces County GOP Chairman Mike Bergsma, said they didn't believe the charges against the congressman to begin with — and still don't.

"I know Blake real well," Bergsma told the Tribune, saying he had never seen Farenthold make a lewd comment to a woman. "When you sue a congressman, you're really suing the whole House; there's not a direct way to sue the congressman — and it's just cheaper to settle than pursue it. ... I think [Farenthold] has done nothing wrong here."

Late Friday, a spokesperson for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., released a statement saying Ryan had spoken with Farenthold earlier in the day.

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"The speaker has made clear any report of sexual harassment is deeply troubling, and those who feel mistreated or violated deserve to have their stories taken seriously. In this instance, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics investigated this claim and unanimously voted to dismiss it," the statement read. "Still, there are important questions to answer, including the use of taxpayer dollars for settlements. We will continue our efforts to reform this settlement system."

Alex Arriaga and Cassandra Pollock contributed to this report.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Farenthold said he might have challenged three female Republican senators to a duel if they had been men from South Texas. [Full story]

  • Sexual misconduct accusations are piling up against powerful men across the country. If you live in Texas and have been the subject of workplace sexual harassment, here’s what you can do. [Full story]

  • Interviews with more than two dozen current and former lawmakers and legislative aides indicate sexual harassment regularly goes unchecked at the Texas Capitol. [Full story]

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