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House Ethics Committee finds Kihuen violated code of conduct

Updated November 16, 2018 - 5:00 pm

WASHINGTON — A House Ethics Committee report released Friday found that Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada violated the congressional code of conduct with unwanted verbal and physical advances to two women during his campaign for Congress.

The committee also heard testimony from a Nevada lobbyist, who made similar claims against Kihuen that dated back to his service in the state Legislature.

The accusations leveled by all three women were found to be credible and in many cases backed by third-party witnesses or documents, according to the report. The committee issued an official sanction of Kihuen for the misconduct.

Kihuen, a Democrat, declined to seek reelection after the Ethics Committee investigation was announced, and apologized in a statement Friday for his actions.

“I extend my sincere apologies to each of these women,” Kihuen said in the statement.

The 11-page report was released by the committee, some 11 months after a bipartisan panel was assembled Dec. 21, 2017 to review the complaints that were brought forward.

The Ethics Committee found that his conduct with a campaign staffer and an employee of a Washington firm violated the Code of Official Conduct.

The report said Kihuen touched women inappropriately, implied he could help their careers in exchange for “romantic interests” and he commented on their looks and asked whether they would cheat on boyfriends or husbands.

At the time of the accusations, Kihuen claimed he was innocent. He also defended his behavior to the Ethics Committee, but the report said that in later, written responses, Kihuen “apologized to the complainants and acknowledged that his actions may have been perceived in ways other than what he intended.”

In a statement released by his office, Kihuen said that after reflection and introspection, “I recognize that regardless of the fact that I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable or disrespected, what matters is how my actions were perceived by the women who came forward.

“It saddens me greatly to think I made any women feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence,” Kihuen said.

Despite the finding of official misconduct, the committee found the public “reproval” of Kihuen’s actions was an appropriate sanction and that the publicity would make other members of Congress cognizant of the unintended consequences of their actions.

The allegations were first made public Dec. 1, 2017 in a Buzzfeed story that described the campaign worker’s experience with Kihuen. After the story was published, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on Kihuen to resign.

Democratic Nevada colleagues, Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Jacky Rosen, also said Kihuen should step down over the accusations.

Another allegation by the Nevada lobbyist then surfaced. The Ethics Committee reviewed and heard testimony from that victim, and found her claims credible, but the case was outside the jurisdiction of the federal panel because the conduct occurred in Carson City while Kihuen served in the Legislature.

Still, a third victim, the employee of the Washington firm, was also interviewed. She also told the panel Kihuen had made unwanted advances.

All three victims said they made decisions to stay away from Kihuen to avoid his advances, even to events or functions that could have helped them in their professional careers.

The committee talked with the victims and witnesses, 12 people, about Kihuen’s conduct from 2013 to 2017 before issuing its findings.

After the committee announced its investigation Dec. 15, 2017, Kihuen announced he would not step down or resign, but would not seek reelection to the Congressional District 4, which includes North Las Vegas, Mesquite and Pahrump.

Rep.-elect Steven Horsford, a Democrat, was elected last week to succeed Kihuen in the House.

Kihuen’s sanction by the Ethics Committee follows that of Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who also did not not seek reelection because of claims of sexual harassment.

Taxpayers footed an $84,000 settlement reached by Farenthold and a former spokeswoman who claimed the Texas congressman acted inappropriately and created a climate of intimidation in the office.

Other lawmakers have resigned or announced retirement following a wave of sexual harassment allegations against politicians.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., resigned and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., retired after allegations surfaced against the men from multiple accusers.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., resigned when it was disclosed he asked a staffer to carry his child as a surrogate mother, and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said he would not seek reelection after explicit photos and videos made during a consensual relationship were made public.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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