- Associated Press - Thursday, July 23, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Thursday that a state senator from her own party needs to “seriously consider” whether he can continue to serve following allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward interns.

McCaskill’s statement came after state Sen. Paul LeVota, who has denied any inappropriate behavior, reiterated that he has no plans to resign following a similar statement by the state’s other top Democrat.

“Two young women have come forward with serious allegations against Senator Paul LeVota, some of which have been corroborated by evidence of text messages,” McCaskill said in a statement. “I believe Senator LeVota needs to seriously consider whether he can continue to serve.”

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said in an earlier statement that the claims are “deeply troubling” and raise “serious questions” about LeVota’s ability to serve, adding that “sexual harassment must not be tolerated.”

State Senate leaders on Thursday - a day after releasing a report detailing allegations by one former intern against the senator - launched another inquiry based on new claims from a second woman. It will be handled by an ethics committee of which LeVota is no longer a member.



LeVota, a 47-year-old from Independence who has a wife and two daughters, had on Wednesday denied claims by the first intern, saying he never acted inappropriately and did not plan to resign. LeVota said after Nixon’s statement that he’s received both support and calls for his resignation and plans to continue to serve and cooperate as the Senate panel reviews the new allegations.

“The Missouri Senate is the jurisdictional organization that decides on the eligibility of its members, not outside parties making knee-jerk reactions to gain political points,” LeVota said in a statement, adding that he’ll accept the committee’s findings.

The Missouri Constitution allows the full Senate to remove a member by a two-thirds majority vote. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said Thursday that he’s referring the new allegations to a Senate ethics committee and requesting members make a recommendation to the full Senate. LeVota has been replaced on that committee.

The former interns’ claims add to a tumultuous year in Missouri politics, during which former Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned on the last day of the legislative session after acknowledging that he had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old Capitol intern.

Former intern Taylor Hirth, the latest to come forward, said LeVota sent her “inappropriate” text messages while she worked in his office in 2010. Hirth, who was 24 at the time, described those messages to The Associated Press as “sexual in nature” and said LeVota, who served as House minority leader at the time, invited her to his Jefferson City duplex.

When Hirth declined, saying she does not drink alone with married men, LeVota said “good rule,” according to screenshots from 2010 that Hirth said she had saved on her cellphone.

“You are smoking & funny & smart, all around cool chick. As far as ‘the moves,’ I’m in if you are,” read one text that Hirth said came from LeVota. “If not, remember that I think you’re a cool chick, I like you, & we can be friends. Got it?”

LeVota denied Hirth’s claims to The Kansas City Star, which first reported Hirth’s allegations.

Hirth came forward after the report Wednesday about the sexual harassment complaint by a former intern for LeVota in this past legislative session. The report said that intern claimed a pattern of sexual harassment that included “unwelcome text messages and explicit requests for sexual activity” from the senator.

The intern said she spent the night at LeVota’s Jefferson City duplex after drinking at a lobbyist event on Jan. 26 and declined what she considered to be an explicit request for sex, according to the report. The intern also said she received texts from LeVota in January, including messages describing her as “perfect and beautiful” and questions about her weekend activities.

LeVota told investigators he did not make any sexual advances to the intern and that she never was in his duplex.

The intern said she felt retaliated against when she rebuked what she viewed as sexual advances by LeVota, and Hirth similarly said LeVota acted in a “snide” and “sarcastic” manner toward her after she declined his advances.

Hirth, who would like to see an independent investigation and believes LeVota should resign, said she considered reporting LeVota’s behavior at the time but feared it could hurt her chances of finding a job in politics.

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine

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