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U.S. Rep. Katie Hill publicly acknowledged Wednesday that she engaged in an “inappropriate” relationship with a member of her staff. But she contends the allegations, supplemented by at least one photograph in which Hill is naked with a staffer, were an effort by political operatives to derail her hopes for a second term.
Hill became the first openly bisexual person to be elected to the U.S. House in November 2018, when she narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Knight.
The House Committee on Ethics issued a statement Oct. 23, saying it had become “aware of public allegations that Representative Katie Hill may have engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on her congressional staff. …”
The statement noted that such a relationship would be in violation of U.S. House Rule XXIII, clause 18(a) under the House Code of Official Conduct and that the committee had begun an investigation into the allegations.
Clause 18(a) states that a member of Congress “may not engage in a sexual relationship with any employee of the House who works under the supervision of the Member … or who is an employee of a committee on which the Member. …”
A spokesperson for the Ethics Comment said the Committee does not comment on its investigations.
According to the Washington Post, the revelations about Hill’s personal relationships first emerged on a conservative political website, RedState.com.
RedState.com’s first story appeared on Oct. 18, noting that Hill is vice chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, one of the key committees looking into whether President Trump has committed acts worthy of having him removed from office.
In “that spirit,” said the article, RedState was reporting that it had obtained photographs and text messages showing that Hill “was involved in a long-term sexual relationship with a female campaign staffer” and that the staffer, Hill and Hill’s husband had developed a “throuple” relationship. The website published three photos of Hill. In one of those photos, Hill is shown naked, brushing the hair of a fully clothed woman sitting between her knees. The RedState article alleges that text messages it obtained indicate Hill broke off the relationship with the female staffer and her husband, saying she wanted to be alone and focus on her work. But RedState reported that Hill’s husband, Kenny Heslep, heard that Hill had started a new sexual relationship with her Congressional legislative director, a man. RedState said Heslep filed for divorce after learning about the male Congressional staffer.
The RedState article says that Hill’s extramarital relationships pose national security risks, given that Hill serves on both the Oversight and Armed Services committees.
By Thursday afternoon, the British tabloid the Daily Mail had published an additional photo it identifies as Hill, naked and holding a bong. The paper says metadata from its photo indicates it was taken in September 2017, before recreational marijuana use was legalized in California. The tabloid points out a tattoo in her groin area that it says is a “Nazi-era iron cross.” The paper does not indicate where the photo was taken, how it obtained or how it was authenticated.
Hill initially denied the relationships when the House Committee on Ethics announced it was investigating her.
But in a letter to her constituents late Wednesday, Hill acknowledged the relationship with her female campaign aide, saying it began during the “final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage.”
“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,” wrote Hill.
But Hill denied having an inappropriate relationship with a male Congressional staffer, calling that accusation “absolutely false.”
Hill is not the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress to be subjected to a House Ethics investigation of allegations related to an inappropriate relationship. Previous investigations have been conducted on former U.S. Reps. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.). The House censured Studds for his relationship with a 17-year-old Congressional page and reprimanded Frank for an “attempt to use [his] political influence” to help a man with whom he had a relationship.
Calls to Rep. Hill’s office Thursday were being answered by voice mail. Many Congressional offices were closed at least temporarily Thursday for services memorializing House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings.