Ethics committee says ‘no action’ on Esty
Washington — The House Ethics Committee released its report on Rep. Elizabeth Esty Thursday, recommending “no further action” on the retiring lawmaker who was criticized for her handling of an abusive staffer.
Esty, who has represented the 5th District since 2013, declined to run for re-election this year after reports that she failed to immediately dismiss her former chief of staff, Tony Baker, after learning that he had verbally abused and threatened another staffer. When she did dismiss him, Esty gave Baker a severance payment and a favorable job recommendation.
The ethics report, which was requested by Esty, said “while the Committee found that, as she herself acknowledged to the Committee, Representative Esty could have better handled the investigation into Mr. Baker’s behavior, the Committee also found that, particularly in light of the guidance she was given … Representative Esty’s actions during that time period warrant no further action.”
The House Ethics Committee, however, composed of five Republicans and five Democrats, determined Esty “could have acted more promptly” in 2016 after learning of allegations of harassment and discrimination by her former chief of staff against another staffer.
“Falling short of ideal practices, however, is not the same as violating House rules,” the Ethics Committee concluded.
Esty said “I am gratified that the extensive review by the House Ethics Committee confirmed that I violated no rule or standard of conduct of the House in my investigation and firing of my former chief of staff after receiving a report of his unacceptable behavior.”
News broke on March 29, 2018, that Esty had continued to employ Baker for months after she learned he threatened and abused Anna Kain, a former staffer who is described in the ethics report as “Former staffer A.”
Baker reportedly “punched, berated, and sexually harassed Former Staffer A” while she was employed in Esty’s office in 2014, leaving threatening voicemails on Kain’s phone on the evening of May 5, 2016, about a year after she had left her job with Esty, the report said.
Esty learned of the threatening voicemails within a week, but allowed Baker to remain on the job while she enlisted the help of Julie Sweet, another former chief of staff, to investigate the situation.
“After receiving an assessment following the review of Mr. Bakers’s misconduct, Representative Esty terminated him, but in doing so provided him with a positive letter of recommendation and paid him severance pursuant to a confidential agreement,” the report said.
Word of how Esty handled the situation prompted calls for her resignation from Connecticut Democrats. But on Capitol Hill, the story did not produce much reaction.
Esty apologized repeatedly for what she admitted was a mishandling of the situation.
“In her interview with the Committee, Representative Esty acknowledged that there were several ways in which she did not engage in ‘best practices’ which she now, with the benefit of hindsight and a greater understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace, wishes she had handled differently,” the ethics report said.
The independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which reviews complaints and sends those it determines warrant further investigation to the Ethics Committee, found Esty had not violated House rules or standards of conduct.
Esty herself asked the Ethics Committee to investigate how she handled Baker. It finished its report just days before Esty leaves office — and the panel’s jurisdiction. Rep.-elect Jahana Hayes will represent the 5th Congressional District in the next Congress.
While the Ethics Committee recommended taking no action in Esty’s case, its duty is to make recommendations to the whole U.S. House on what action should be taken as a result of an investigation. Those actions could include censure and expulsion.
The panel was created in 1960. But Congress has long struggled with how to handle ethical issues.
In 1798, during the first Congress, Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont spat on Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut during a vote. The entire House heard evidence in the case of “disorderly behavior” and a motion to expel Lyon fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed.
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