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A recently revealed report confirms the worst: that former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt “misused his position as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency by attempting to ‘coerce or induce’ a relationship with a female employee seeking a promotion,” The Washington Post reported last week.
It marks a disappointing end to what was once an illustrious career.
Simone Grimes, an FHFA supervisory program management analyst, told members of the House Financial Services Committee in September that Watt made dozens of sexual advances toward her, withheld a promised pay raise over her refusal of his advances and was protected by senior agency officials, The Associated Press reported last year.
According to Grimes, Watt had been harassing her for several years, starting in 2015, when he approached her during a party and “asserted that there was an attraction between them that needed to be explored,” she said. Over the next two years, Watt repeatedly asked Grimes to meet him outside the office, sometimes at his vacation home in North Carolina.
She described meeting with him so she could talk about her pay and her responsibilities, but said the conversation would inevitably turn to Watt’s attraction to her.
Watt denied the accusations, but an inspector general’s investigation found credence to Grimes’ claims. He was also not “candid” with investigators and attempted to explain away his conversations with Grimes, some of which were recorded, as jokes or part of an attempt to mentor her, according to the report.
“So you have this conversation where you talk to her about the chief of staff position and other positions alone with her in your apartment with soft music in the background, and then tell her that she’s gorgeous, you’re attracted to her, and you can draw the line. I don’t get it,” an investigator said in a part of the report.
Watt told investigators he “did not have a romantic attraction to” Grimes. Rather, he was concerned that she was attracted to him. He suggested meeting her outside the office to eliminate his suspicions, he told investigators.
That just doesn’t wash.
“Given the Director’s stated concerns about the interests of Grimes, the Director should have been especially scrupulous about conducting meetings with Grimes in FHFA’s offices,” the report says. “Instead, by his own admission, he treated Grimes differently from other female mentees. A reasonable conclusion is that he did so because he was seeking an inappropriate relationship with her,” the report says.
The investigation was completed in late November, but the results weren’t released until The Washington Post filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
“In my view, it’s time for me to ride off into the sunset because the standards have become so confused that it’s difficult to operate in them,” Watt told investigators. He retired in January at the end of his term as director of the FHFA.
We agree with his decision — though it’s a sad denouement for a popular Democrat who represented North Carolina during a state Senate term and for 20 years in Washington. During that time, he won respect from both sides of the aisle.
But even before the #MeToo movement, there should have been little confusion that Watt’s words and actions were beyond what’s acceptable in the workplace — especially for a government official. All legislators and government officials should know they’re not acceptable now.