AUSTIN — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold "allowed the power of his office to go too far," which enabled a sexually charged atmosphere inside his Capitol workplace, a former aide told the USA TODAY NETWORK on Tuesday.
“I think the things he did, and allowed to continue in his office, have consequences and there should be no tolerance whatsoever for the environment we had to work in," said Elizabeth Peace, a former spokeswoman for the embattled Corpus Christi, Texas, Republican.
"His comments were inappropriate and his unwillingness to immediately take action to allow us to work in a safe environment is inappropriate."
But Peace, who joined the office after another staff member had filed a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against Farenthold in 2014, added that he had done "a lot of things he did that I am incredibly grateful for" and that there thing about him that she respects.
"At the end of the day, I think he is someone who allowed the power of his office to go too far," she said. "And he has to be held responsible for what he did and what happened to his staff."
Peace's comments came after Farenthold's office disclosed that the congressman brought in outside investigators and he and his staff underwent “sensitivity and anti-harassment training” last year amid complaints of inappropriate comments and actions.
“The investigators did not find corroboration of the alleged sexualized comments attributed to the complaining employee,” Farenthold’s communications director Stacey Daniels said in an email to the USA TODAY NETWORK.
She declined to say whether the findings would be made public or to identify who conducted the investigation. But Daniels insisted that the matter had been properly dealt with.
“Regardless of the finding that there was no evidence of gender bias, or inappropriate sexualized comments by office personnel, (Farenthold) and the entire staff took sensitivity and anti-harassment training to insure full compliance with office policy and the law,” she said.
The training was done with the staff by Office of House Employment Counsel, Daniels said.
Farenthold has rejected calls that he resign but faces a hotly contested Republican primary in March. He has been under fire nationally after reports surfaced that he settled a federal sexual harassment lawsuit with taxpayers’ money. The suit, filed in 2015 and settled for $84,000 that same year, was filed by a former staff member who said she endured crude comments from Farenthold and his top aide.
Lauren Greene, who filed the suit after being fired by Farenthold, is cooperating with a House Ethics Committee investigation into the matter, her lawyer, Leslie Alderman, has said.
Meanwhile, Farenthold has drawn six Republican opponents for the upcoming primary in what is considered a safe Republican district. Three Democrats have also filed.
One of his former campaign consultants, Steve Ray, has signed on with Republican hopeful Bech Bruun. Ray who worked on Farenthold’s campaigns dating back to his first run for office in 2010, declined discuss the current controversy.
“What I will say is that I’ve known Bech Bruun since 2008 and he is a great guy,” Ray said. “He is the future of the Republican Party in Texas. When I got the opportunity to work for him, I felt like I had to take it.”
Last week, a group of protesters assembled outside of Farenthold’s district office in Corpus Christi demanding that he follow the lead of others in Congress who have resigned in recent days after being caught up in allegations of sexual misconduct.
Farenthold was in Washington at the time, but issued a statement repeating his assertion that he had done nothing to warrant his leaving office and quoted the findings of an independent arm of Congress that he said had cleared him of wrongdoing.
“As usual, the Democrats organizing this rally don’t have the facts straight,” Farenthold said in his statement that included. “After an exhaustive investigation, the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics reported, “there is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against Complainant.”
Last week, two Republican congresswomen, Mia Love of Utah and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, called for Farenthold to resign. So far, none of Farenthold’s colleagues from Texas have joined that call.
“We have no comment for you at this time,” said Kevin Boland, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, the only woman in the Texas Republican delegation.
Follow John C. Moritz on Twitter: @JohnnieMo