Ethics probe into Rep. Alcee Hastings ends after disclosure he married aide

John Bresnahan

An investigation into whether Rep. Alcee Hastings had an improper relationship with one of his aides was dropped after it was disclosed that the Florida Democrat has been married to the staffer since January 2019, according to a statement Friday by the House Ethics Committee.

The Ethics panel also announced that it was creating a special investigative subcommittee to look into allegations that Del. Michael F. Q. San Nicolas (D-Guam), had an improper sexual relationship with a congressional staffer, broke campaign finance laws and lied to governments. San Nicolas' former chief of staff has accused the delegate, who was elected in 2018, of having an affair with the woman in question and then hiring her in his congressional office.

For Hastings, the Ethics Committee's decision ends the latest chapter in a series of controversies involving his romantic relationships, although the veteran lawmaker has never been found in violation of House rules.

Roll Call reported in December 2017 that the Treasury Department paid $220,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit involving Hastings. No ethics charges were brought in the case, and Hastings denied any improper behavior. Hastings also said he was not aware of the legal settlement.

After the resignation of former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), who left office in October in the wake of allegations she had inappropriate sexual relationships with staffers in her office and congressional campaign, Hastings' relationship with Patricia Williams came under renewed scrutiny.

The Ethics Committee publicly stated in November that it was looking into Hastings' relationship with an unnamed staffer. House rules bar lawmakers from having romantic relationships with aides or committee staffers. However, a lawmaker may employ a spouse in his or her office.

Williams was not named in the November announcement by Ethics, but the relationship has been reported by Florida newspapers, including the fact that Hastings and Williams bought a house together in 2017. Williams has been on Hastings' payroll since 2000. Williams is Hastings' district director and makes more than $156,000 annually, according to congressional disbursement records.

On Friday, however, the Ethics Committee announced it was dropping the case.

"During its review, the Committee became aware that Representative Hastings has been married to the individual employed in his congressional office since January 2019," the panel said in a statement. "Accordingly, Representative Hastings is not in violation of House Rule XXIII, clause 18(a), as its terms do not apply to relationships between two people who are married to each other, nor is he in violation of the House Gift Rule, which permits Members to accept gifts from relatives."

The Ethics Committee added that it also reviewed Hastings’ conduct prior to his marriage and considered whether Hastings had complied with nepotism rules. The panel, chaired by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) with Texas Rep. Kenny Marchant as the top Republican, ultimately determined that it would take no further action.

Hastings' office did not respond to request for comment.

The case against San Nicolas, a former high school teacher and territorial senator, grows out of allegations disclosed by a former aide, John Paul Manuel.

The special investigative subcommittee — a bipartisan four-member panel led by Reps. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) — has subpoena power and will produce a report for the full Ethics Committee to review. The Ethics Committee has the power to sanction San Nicolas on its own, make recommendations to the full House for more series actions such as censure or expulsion, or submit a criminal recommendation to the Justice Department for further action.

According to the Ethics Committee's announcement, San Nicolas may have “engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on his congressional staff; converted campaign funds to personal use; accepted improper and/or excessive campaign contributions; reported campaign disbursements that may not be legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes; omitted required information from or disclosed false information in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission; made false statements to government investigators or agencies; and/or improperly interfered or attempted to interfere in a government investigation of related allegations in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct.”

San Nicolas' office did not respond to request for comment.