Rep. Katie Hill, subject of a new House Ethics Committee inquiry over an alleged relationship with a staff member, is the first female lawmaker to face such a charge.
The first-term California Democrat denies she ever had an inappropriate relationship with her legislative director, Graham Kelly, as alleged by her estranged husband, Kenny Heslep. The pair are in the midst of divorce proceedings, and Heslep also alleges he, Hill, and a staff member on her successful 2018 campaign for a northern Los Angeles County seat were engaged in an intimate relationship, including explicit photos that appeared on the conservative site RedState.
Dozens of House members have been involved in Capitol Hill sex scandals, but to date they’ve all been men. Members of both parties have been implicated.
In 2017, for instance, then-Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, was investigated by the House Ethics Committee after House officials learned that he had asked two female employees to bear his child as a surrogate. But Franks abruptly resigned before the Ethics Committee study concluded, meaning the panel lost jurisdiction, since he was no longer a House member.
In 2010, first-term Rep. Eric Massa, a New York Democrat, resigned to avoid an ethics investigation into his admitted groping and tickling of multiple male staffers.
Congressional sex scandals in earlier decades occurred when the House had overwhelmingly male membership.
Relationships between members of Congress and campaign staff are not plainly addressed in the House code of conduct. Including Hill, there are currently 102 women serving in the 435-member House, about 23%.
Their statement read:
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Katie Hill may have engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on her congressional staff, in violation of House Rule XXIII, clause 18 (a).”
Rep. Hill referenced the House Ethics Committee in an email sent to constituents 10 minutes after The Hill’s story went live. She wrote:
To my family, friends, supporters and members of my community,
It pains me deeply that I have to send you this note at all, but I want you to hear from me so that I can hopefully put to rest some of the gossip, innuendo and lies that have been told in recent days.
During the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage, I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize. I wish nothing but the best for her and hope everyone respects her privacy in this difficult time.
But the truth is, distributing intimate photos with the intent to publish them is a crime, and the perpetrator should be punished to the full extent of the law. I have notified Capitol Police, who are investigating it, and therefore will have no further comment on the matter.
I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me. I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain. This coordinated effort to try to destroy me and the people close to me is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid.
I am saddened that the deeply personal matter of my divorce has been brought into public view, even the false allegations of a relationship with my congressional staffer, which I have publicly denied, and I am fully and proactively cooperating with the Ethics Committee.
This smear campaign will not get in the way of the work I am doing every day to move our district and our country forward. I am truly grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from colleagues and constituents alike, and I know we will get through this together.
There is important work to do on behalf of our district and I promise to keep working as hard as I can to fight for the ideals that I committed to from day one. Out of respect for the law enforcement and the Ethics Committee, I will not have more to say on this subject until their work is concluded.
Rep. Katie Hill denies improper relationship with aide after intimate photos appear online | ABC7