- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A conservative legal group said Wednesday the congressional ethics office is looking into allegations that Florida congressman Alcee L. Hastings sexually harassed a female former aide.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, which is representing former Hastings staffer Winsome Packer, said that Ms. Packer has met with investigators from the Office of Congressional Ethics on her sexual harassment claim. The office has no disciplinary powers, and it can only recommend further investigation by the House ethics committee. The Office of Congressional Ethics had no comment.

“She is cooperating with investigators,” Mr. Fitton said of Ms. Packer.

Tonya Robinson, Mr. Hastings‘ attorney, said Mr. Hastings denies Ms. Packer’s charges “in the strongest terms.”

Mr. Hastings has stated unequivocally that the plaintiff’s claims are untruthful and without merit,” Ms. Robinson said.

Ms. Robinson added that “preliminary ethics inquiries are confidential matters under the relevant rules.”

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

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

Ms. Packer’s suit said Mr. Hastings kept asking to stay at her apartment or 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, Mr. 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, Mr. Hastings was elected to Congress.