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Ethics office probes sex-harassment claim against Rep. Hastings

A conservative legal group said Wednesday that the Office of Congressional Ethics is looking into allegations that Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., sexually harassed a female former aide.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, which is representing former Hastings staffer Winsome Packer, said Packer has met with investigators from the ethics office on her sexual-harassment claim.

The office has no disciplinary powers and can only recommend further investigation by the House ethics committee. The ethics office had no comment.

"She is cooperating with investigators," Fitton said of Packer.

Tonya Robinson, Hastings' attorney, said Hastings denies Packer's charges "in the strongest terms."

"Mr. Hastings has stated unequivocally that the plaintiff's claims are untruthful and without merit," Robinson said.

Robinson added that "preliminary ethics inquiries are confidential matters under the relevant rules."

In March, Packer filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington against Hastings and the Helsinki Commission that he headed. She claimed he repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances and threatened her position when she refused him.

Packer served as the commission's staff representative in Vienna and said much of the harassment occurred when Hastings was in Europe on business for the commission, which advises on U.S. policy about security, human rights and other issues involving Europe.

Packer's lawsuit said Hastings kept asking to stay at her apartment. It said he also kept trying to get her to visit his hotel room, hugging her and making sexual comments including asking her what kind of underwear she was wearing.

In 1979, Hastings was appointed a federal judge. He was charged in an FBI bribery sting but was acquitted by a federal jury in 1983.

He was later impeached by the House and removed from the bench in 1989 by the Senate.

In 1992, Hastings was elected to Congress.

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