A sexual harassment suit filed against Congressman Alcee Hastings combines two of the Miramar Democrat's weaknesses -- taxpayer-paid globetrotting and women underlings he has had in the government's employ.
Packer and Hastings
Winsome Packer, the former high-level Capitol Hill policy adviser suing Hastings for sexual harassment, claims he made numerous unwanted sexual advances toward her as they traveled around the world on Congressional business to Vienna, Copenhagen, Kiev, and Lisbon, among other places.
Packer, who served as Hastings' representative on the Helsinki Commission, also alleges that after Hastings appointed her to her $165,000-a-year position as his representative on the commission, he told of her romantic relationships with two other staffers in his D.C. office -- one of whom was a frequent companion of the Miramar Democrat on some of his controversial international trips.
Hastings' high-rolling travel was exposed in a Wall Street Journal report
published last March as one of the biggest spenders on Capitol Hill. A subsequent report by Political Money Line found that Hastings had racked up $152,328 in congressional travel expenses in the decade ending in 2005, making him the second-highest travel spender in the House during that time. The travel included 57 trips to 116 countries, and the expenses included gifts and other items that appeared to be improper expenditures.
Much of the money was paid in controversial per diem payments that go without documentation. From the Wall Street Journal article:
"You are all concerned about nickels and dimes, and I'm not," said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D., Fla.). "You know, in a taxicab in Kazakhstan, I don't have time to get a receipt -- I don't speak Kazakh."
In a subsequent interview, Mr. Hastings said he had time to gather receipts, but didn't.
Mr. Hastings said he sometimes used the extra taxpayer money to buy gifts, meals or drinks for military pilots, security officials and interpreters who travel with him. On a trip earlier this year to the Middle East, Mr. Hastings gave $100 to an Iraqi refugee, he said.
"I'm a generous spirit and a courteous spirit," Mr. Hastings said. "I stand accused."
One trip detailed in the Political Money Line report was a three-day jaunt to Belgium with his former staff assistant, Vanessa Griddine, in 2004 that cost taxpayers $14,193. Other published reports indicate Griddine accompanied Hastings on congressional trips Austria, Italy, Russia, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Lebanon.
As it happens, Griddine, long whispered to have been a girlfriend of Hastings, received an ignominious mention in Packer's lawsuit, which was filed yesterday by the conservative group Judicial Watch. The lawsuit also makes mention of Hastings' romantic relationship with
his deputy staff director, Patricia Williams. Packer claims Hastings told her of romantic relationships with both staffers during a dinner in Vienna in May 2008. From the lawsuit:
"At dinner the same evening, in a conversation initiated by Mr. Hastings, he commented to Ms. Packer that the only reason he was dating Patricia Williams, the Deputy District Director, was because she had been his counsel in his bribery and impeachment trials that resulted in his impeachment and removal from the federal bench. He also confided to her that he had been dating another staff member, Vanessa Griddine, but that she was 'not worthy.'"
Griddine has been the subject of rumors involving Hastings in the right-wing press for several years, in part fueled by the fact that he put her on the congressional payroll at a salary of more than $71,000 a year -- more than he paid his legislative director and his chief of staff in the D.C. office (longtime local chief of staff Art Kennedy is paid in excess of $160,000 a year).
Hastings has also been romantically linked to Patricia Williams in previous published reports -- an ethically dubious relationship at best. Williams, who was dating Hastings at the time he was under investigation by the FBI in 1991, did indeed represent Hastings during his bribery and impeachment trials that left him in debt to Williams for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Williams was disbarred after representing Hastings for misappropriating clients' money, but she's had no problem making a very nice salary. Hastings made Williams the deputy staff director of his D.C. office. Last year, he paid her a whopping $162,661
on the taxpayers' dime, according to Legistorm.com.
More to come later on the lawsuit.