U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan admitted to "my own struggle with emotions" related to a congressional aide who later filed a sexual harassment complaint, but Meehan said he is "hurt" by the way their relationship has been portrayed publicly.
Meehan, a Republican, said he will continue his re-election campaign to represent Pennsylvania's seventh congressional district, a region south of Philadelphia.
But the sexual harassment complaint and settlement, which Meehan admitted to paying out using taxpayer funds, will loom over his bid for a third term in what was already expected to be a very tight race.
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Meehan would not say how much was paid as part of the settlement.
An attorney for the victim, who has not been identified, told NBC10 that she believes Meehan has violated a non-disclosure agreement with the victim by speaking with reporters about the details of the relationship.
Meehan admitted that he had a very close relationship with the young aide, but disputed any notion that his actions crossed a line into harassment. He shared a letter he wrote the aide wishing her well with a new boyfriend. The letter came shortly after the two went for ice cream following a town hall event in April 2017.
"It was certainly professional and there wasn’t any inappropriate fashion to it. My own struggles with emotions is a pretty different thing," he said. "How can you control feelings? What you can control is what you do with those feelings. And I had the ability to step back and say, 'Wait a second, don’t make that something.'"
Some Democrats in Pennsylvania, including Gov. Tom Wolf, have called on Meehan to step down. One Democrat, former Gov. Ed Rendell, however, said if Meehan doesn't step down, he should push for an immediate hearing before the House Ethics Committee.
"I am one that thinks allegations are still allegations and if he’s denying them, he should ask for an immediate hearing by the Ethics Committee to find if he did anything wrong," Rendell said. "If they find he did nothing wrong, then he has the right to stay in Congress and run for another term. If they find evidence of sexual harassment and that he punished her, he should resign."
A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said Meehan did request a review by the committee and that Ryan has told Meehan that he should repay the taxpayer funds paid out in the settlement.
Meehan has already been removed from the Ethics Committee, on which he served before The New York Times first reported on the harassment complaint and taxpayer-funded settlement.
He said the controversy "hurts," and blamed the politically-charged atmosphere in Washington, D.C. for fueling the fallout from the complaint and settlement.
"In a place like Washington, everybody loves the salacious. ... They love to jump quickly and, you know, they bury you," he said. "Then they worry about what really happened."