Rep. Raúl Grijalva faces ethics probe over hostile workplace allegations

By Anthony Adragna and John Bresnahan
Grijalva’s alcohol use has come under fire repeatedly.

The House Ethics Committee is examining allegations that Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the Natural Resources Committee chairman, created a hostile workplace, his spokesman confirmed on Friday.

The ethics probe comes four years after the Natural Resources Committee shelled out more than $48,000 to settle a complaint by a former female staffer over a hostile work environment linked to Grijalva’s alcohol use. The settlement was formally disclosed by the Ethics Committee in a December 2018 letter where it said the payments were permissible.

The Ethics Committee probe was first reported by E&E News.

Grijalva is one of the most senior Hispanic lawmakers in the House and is in his first term as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. Elected to Congress in 2002, the Arizona Democrat is a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and past chairman of the Progressive Caucus.

Grijalva asserted the review will fully exonerate him and hopes to see it completed as soon as possible.

“I’m proud of the positive and professional work environment I’ve worked hard to create for my staff. I look forward to finally clearing this up and putting the issue to rest once and for all,” Grijalva said in a statement.

The Ethics Committee did not respond to request for comment. The panel has not issued any formal notice that it is investigating Grijalva, but the secretive panel can do so on its own authority.

The woman who made the original complaint and whom POLITICO is not naming, declined comment and signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement. The underlying conduct at issue was not sexual in nature and the 2015 settlement came out of Grijalva’s operating budget for the committee.

Grijalva said during a December 2017 local Arizona radio show that he decided, after consulting with Natural Resources Committee Democrats, that the former aide’s plans for the panel were “not the direction that was going to fit in” and that “she needed to move on to another job.” He called the matter “difficult” because “I had known this employee when she had worked in the committee previously.”

The Arizona Democrat has repeatedly voiced frustration that the terms of the settlement have left him unable to publicly comment on its details and asked the attorney of his former aide to release him from the confidentiality rules.

But Grijalva’s alcohol use has come under fire repeatedly. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, facing a swirl of ethics controversies, demanded Grijalva resign and said it is “hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle” in a high-profile dustup in late 2018. However, Grijalva denied having a drinking problem during that radio interview, saying that would be “a very dangerous thing to do for anybody and I would never walk that line.”

“No, I don’t,” Grijalva said, when asked whether he had a drinking problem. “I was not impaired or drinking while I was doing my job, period.”