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House widens ethics probe to include Farenthold campaign work

By Lisa Lambert

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The ethics probe into U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold, who is already under a cloud for alleged sexual misconduct, is being expanded to look into whether he mixed his political campaign with congressional work and lied to the House Ethics Committee, the panel said on Thursday.

Last week, Farenthold said he would not seek re-election next year after accounts surfaced that he created a hostile work environment. The Texas Republican denied allegations of sexual harassment but admitted allowing an unprofessional culture in his Capitol Hill office.

On Thursday the ethics committee voted unanimously to investigate whether Farenthold used his congressional staff and other resources of the House of Representatives to further his political campaign, and if he had made false statements or omissions to the committee.

The panel was already looking into whether he committed sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation against a former staff member and if he made inappropriate statements to other members of his staff.

The committee said the announcement should not be read as an indication that it had found any rule violations. Farenthold's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Congress strictly divides lawmakers' work on Capitol Hill and their runs for re-election so that taxpayers do not end up subsidizing political campaigns. In August, the committee went so far as to warn Representatives, who face elections every two years, they should not even send texts or forward emails related to their campaigns while in House buildings.

Congress is reviewing its workplace policies on sexual harassment after a number of lawmakers have been accused of sexual misconduct in recent weeks amid a wave of such allegations against powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House said on Thursday intends to introduce legislation in January reforming a 20-year-old law that covers sexual harassment in Congress, which it hopes will pass soon after.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by David Gregorio)