Representative Farenthold Will Retire Due to Sexual Harassment Scandals: Your Texas Roundup
Plus: Texas’s ”Tweeter Laureate” is confirmed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the National Butterfly Center sues Trump over the wall, and the Senate won’t confirm one of Trump’s picks to serve as a federal judge in Texas.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Last night in Alabama, something very important happened: Decency trumped tribalism.”
—Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, while speaking at a Greater Austin Crime Commission luncheon on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune. Straus praised voters in Alabama for rejecting Roy Moore, a Senate candidate who was accused of sexually harassing and abusing multiple women while they were underage.
After allegations from a third former aide, U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold will retire after his current term. “GOP source confirms: @farenthold is retiring under pressure from @SpeakerRyan, who spoke twice to congressman on Wed. & told him he should RESIGN. He’s resisting,” tweeted David Drucker, reporter with the Washington Examiner, on Thursday. On Wednesday, weeks after Farenthold was revealed to have used $84,000 to settle sexual harassment allegations from his former communications director, Lauren Greene, another former aide came forward with claims of sexual harassment and other abusive behavior. Michael Rekola, who was Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, told CNN that Farenthold would make sexually graphic jokes and berate his aides. Rekola said the bullying was so intense that he had to seek medical treatment and psychological counseling, and that at one point, it caused him to vomit daily. Before Rekola’s wedding in July 2015, he said Farenthold publicly told him, “better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle—it will be the last time.” According to Rekola, Farenthold then joked about whether Rekola’s fiancée could wear white on her wedding day. “I was disgusted and I left. I walked out,” Rekola told CNN. He resigned shortly after returning from the wedding. Rekola also told CNN that during the nine months that he worked for the congressman, Farenthold subjected him to additional abusive behavior that was not sexually charged. Farenthold allegedly would scream at Rekola and other aides in fits of rage, slamming his fists on desks, berating them, and regularly calling them “f*cktards.” Farenthold told CNN in a statement that he never made comments to Rekola about receiving oral sex from his then-fiancée or whether she could wear a white dress. He did, however, admit that he regularly referred to aides as “f*cktards,” but said that it was “in jest, not in anger.” Farenthold told CNN that “in hindsight, I admit it wasn’t appropriate.” CNN said it corroborated Rekola’s story through interviews with his wife, friends, and colleagues; examinations of medical records and photographs; and by reading Rekola’s journal. Rekola also approached the House Ethics Committee last week and hopes to provide the committee with examples of Farenthold’s alleged abusive behavior toward aides.
MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett was confirmed by a Senate vote of 50-47 on Wednesday to fill an open seat on the federal U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the Texas Tribune. He’s served on the state’s highest civil court since 2005, and Trump named him a potential U.S. Supreme Court pick during the 2016 presidential campaign before ultimately nominating him for the long-open seat on the historically conservative Fifth Circuit, which represents Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Some Democrats resisted his confirmation, calling Willett an “extreme individual” with a “frightening record.” “Can any woman coming before this individual expect a fair hearing?” U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, asked at a news conference on Wednesday. “The answer is probably not.”
The National Butterfly Center in Mission filed a lawsuit earlier this week against the Department of Homeland Security, in an attempt to force the Trump administration to conduct federally required environmental assessments and follow the constitution and legal due process before building a border wall through the wildlife sanctuary, according to the Texas Observer. Over the summer, after the executive director stumbled upon a construction crew cutting down trees and brush along a dirt road leading to the Rio Grande along the preserve, the Butterfly Center found out that in preliminary plans, the border wall would run right through the 100-acre facility. The lawsuit accuses the federal government of unlawful incursion, deprivation of due process, and violating the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Butterfly Center is also seeking restitution for its legal fees. The lawsuit says that, if constructed as planned, the wall would “cut off two-thirds of the NBC, effectively destroying the Center and leaving behind a 70-acre no-man’s land between the proposed border wall and the Rio Grande.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
Some links are paywalled or subscription-only.
Here’s what Texas senators said (or didn’t say) about sexual harassment allegations against two of their colleagues Texas Observer
Governor Abbott asked the Texas Rangers to investigate sexual abuse at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department Texas Tribune
A look at the government land grabs along the Texas border that helped build the first border wall ProPublica and Texas Tribune
The University of Houston will lead a new hurricane research center Houston Chronicle
Representative Louie Gohmert was in Alabama stumping for Roy Moore Longview News-Journal