U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, one of the first bisexual members of Congress, has announced she will resign after becoming enmeshed in an ethics scandal over accusations that she was romantically involved with one of her staffers.
Last Wednesday, House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into allegations that Hill had been involved with her legislative director, Graham Kelly, violating a House ethics rule forbidding sexual relationships with subordinates.
Hill has continued to deny she was ever involved in a sexual relationship with Kelly.
The allegations first surfaced in an article on the conservative website RedState.org, which also alleged that Hill and her husband — from whom she is separated — were engaged in a consensual three-person relationship with a female campaign staffer.
The article included text messages it said were between Hill and the staffer, as well as intimate photos of Hill and the staffer kissing, which were published without Hill’s consent.
That article was subsequently followed by the publication of other photos of Hill, including one that appears to show her nude and smoking a bong, by the British tabloid The Daily Mail.
As a result of a publication of the photos, many, including Hill, have decried the situation as an example of “revenge porn,” in which someone releases explicit photos in an attempt to humiliate, degrade, or embarrass the person in question.
Hill has acknowledged that she engaged in a consensual relationship with the female campaign staffer.
However, she is accusing her husband of engaging in a “smear campaign built around cyber exploitation,” enlisting “hateful political operatives” to carry it out, according to The Washington Post.
On Sunday, she announced her pending resignation, which will occur by the end of the week, according to Politico.
“It is with a broken heart that today I announce my resignation from Congress,” Hill said in a statement. “This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents, my community, and our country.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed support for Hill’s resignation, saying the member had “acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable.”
But Hill also took the opportunity to lambaste those who published the intimate photos of her without her consent.
“Having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy,” she said. “It’s also illegal, and we are currently pursuing all of our available legal options.”
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has previously defended Hill on the “revenge porn” aspect of the situation, calling the ethics investigation into her relationship with Kelly — who also denies any affair — “absurd.”
“The only person who seems to have a gripe is @RepKatieHill’s soon-to-be ex,” he tweeted. “Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text? Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone — it is because she is different.”
This is just absurd. The only person who seems to have a gripe is @RepKatieHill’s soon-to-be ex.
Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text?
Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone – it is because she is different. https://t.co/Czrc2k8z8X
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) October 24, 2019
He followed that up with another tweet chastising Congress for its inaction on other matters, writing: “Congress should write a budget before we play ‘bedroom police’ or allow an ex to illegally humiliate our colleague for being different. Key fact: Not a whiff of a complaint from anyone who has worked for Congresswoman Hill. Just an angry ex releasing revenge porn. Sad!”
Congress should write a budget before we play “bedroom police” or allow an ex to illegally humiliate our colleague for being different.
Key fact: Not a whiff of a complaint from anyone who has worked for Congresswoman Hill. Just an angry ex releasing revenge porn. Sad! https://t.co/SUPlgLk8uP
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) October 24, 2019
Currently, 46 states — including Hill’s home state of California — and the District of Columbia have revenge porn laws that punish those who distribute indecent material of others without their consent, either to for the purpose of humiliation or extortion.
U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation in May that would make sharing sexually explicit images of a person without their consent a federal crime. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
While she may be stepping away from the halls of Congress, Hill has vowed to fight the scourge of revenge porn in her capacity as a private citizen.
“Now, my fight is going to be to defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victims to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light,” she said in her resignation announcement.
Hill, who represents the conservative Simi Valley suburbs of Los Angeles, was one of several freshmen who flipped formerly-held Republican House seats, fueling Democrats’ substantial gains in the 2018 midterm elections.
Her departure reduces the number of out LGBTQ members of Congress down to nine, seven of whom are in the House of Representatives.
Hall’s resignation also leaves California Democrats scrambling to find a replacement candidate who can hold onto the seat, which will likely be fiercely contested in 2020. The filing deadline for congressional candidates is Dec. 6.