HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who settled a former aide's sexual harassment complaint with taxpayer money said Tuesday that he developed a deep affection for her and reacted badly when she began dating another man, but never harassed her or pursued a romantic relationship.
Rep. Pat Meehan said Tuesday that he intends to run for re-election in his suburban Philadelphia district and maintained that he did nothing wrong.
The four-term congressman, who is 62 and married, told the Philadelphia Inquirer he once told the woman he saw her as a "soul mate" and reacted "selfishly" when he discovered the decades-younger woman was in a serious relationship with another man.
The complaint by the former aide came to light Saturday in a New York Times report that cited unnamed people.
The settlement had been kept secret, and Meehan's office has declined to answer repeated questions about how much taxpayer money Meehan paid out in it. The accuser's lawyer, Alexis Ronickher, has called the allegations "well-grounded" and a "serious sexual harassment claim."
The revelation comes amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct in the workplace. Four members of Congress have either resigned or said they won't run again amid complaints from women about sexual misconduct.
The former aide made the complaint last summer to the congressional Office of Compliance after Meehan became hostile toward her when she did not reciprocate his romantic interest, and she left the job, the Times reported.
The Times did not identify the accuser and said she did not speak to the newspaper.
On Saturday, House Speaker Paul Ryan called for an Ethics Committee investigation and Meehan's removal from the committee. He also told Meehan to repay the money, his office said.
Meehan said he would repay the public money if the House Ethics Committee concludes that he harassed her. He called the payment a "severance," not a "settlement," and has said he followed the advice of House lawyers and Ethics Committee guidance.
Meehan said he "developed an affection" for the woman and acknowledged that he lashed out in his office when he was told of her relationship with another man. He attributed it to a tense period around House votes on health care legislation.
Even if you believe @RepMeehan, he should still resign. The "soul mate" stuff is foul, as was the letter. He was animated by developments in his aide's love life. Then there's his retaliation. Sexual harassment takes many forms, and this is one of them. https://t.co/x3DqnT99VN— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) January 23, 2018
To express his feelings, he invited the woman out for ice cream, where Meehan told her he saw her as a "soul mate" after years of working closely together, the Inquirer reported. They hugged, he said, "maybe longer that night than needed to be."
Later that night in May, he penned a hand-written letter, which Meehan shared with reporters. In it, he wished her well, and thanked God "for putting you into my life and for all that we have seen and experienced and genuinely shared together."
DEVELOPING: I just sat down with Republican Congressman Pat Meehan who is accused of sexually harrassing a former female staffer. He used taxpayer money to pay her off. He calls her a soulmate but denies any sexual harassment. Here is a letter he sent her. LIVE at 5&6 @CBSPhilly pic.twitter.com/aKO7Ymkfjl— David Spunt (@DavidSpuntCBS3) January 23, 2018
She texted him the next day thanking him "for your very kind words and for your friendship," according to texts shared with reporters.
Meehan said he never sought a romantic or sexual relationship and has remained loyal to his wife.
"I did not seek a relationship. What I did was try to communicate that I was struggling with the idea that I might if I ... wasn't able to keep things in the proper perspective," Meehan told the Inquirer.
After the Times published its story, Meehan pushed to dissolve the confidentiality provisions in the agreement "to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts."
Ronickher rejected that, calling it a "dirty political maneuver" by Meehan that violated the agreement's confidentiality terms and would victimize her client again by revealing the woman's identity publicly.
Ronickher also said Meehan had demanded confidentiality to settle the complaint.