Ethics panel clears Rep. Grijalva in payment to ex-staffer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee has cleared Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva of wrongdoing in connection with a settlement he made with a female former staffer who accused him of being drunk and creating a hostile work environment.

Grijalva, a Democrat who is set to become chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee next month, paid the ex-staffer $48,000 in 2015 when she left his office after working there for three months.

The ethics panel said in a Dec. 14 letter that it was dismissing a complaint against Grijalva related to the payment. The letter, signed by Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, said the panel considers the matter closed. Brooks chairs the ethics panel and Deutch is the top Democrat.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter, which has not been made public. The letter was first reported by The Hill.

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In an interview, Grijalva told The Hill that the investigation of the settlement has been “a bane on my family. Politically, it’s used against me, whether it’s the midterms or anything else. I don’t know if this necessarily makes it go away, but it does minimize the lies and for that I’m happy.”

Grijalva acknowledged last year that a new employee had left his staff and that he signed a nondisclosure agreement preventing him from discussing details. The claims did not refer to sexual harassment, he said.

In a scathing personal attack on Grijalva last month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called the payment “hush money.”

After Grijalva wrote a Nov. 30 opinion column, published in USA Today, urging Zinke to resign, Zinke responded on Twitter, “It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle.”

Grijalva “should resign and pay back the taxpayer for the hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spend investigating unfounded allegations,” Zinke wrote.

Zinke announced Saturday he is resigning amid a flurry of investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest. Grijalva had warned that Democrats were likely to focus on Zinke after they take control of the House in January.

Grijalva spokesman Adam Sarvana said Saturday that the panel still intends to ask for Zinke’s testimony.

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