Mostly silence from the Democrats. Outrage and concern from the Republicans.
Such was the local reaction to the stories of Rep. Katie Hill’s relationships with a campaign staffer and, allegedly, a congressional staffer.
The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday said it would investigate Rep. Katie Hill over her having a sexual relationship with a congressional staff member.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Katie Hill may have engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on her congressional staff, in violation of House Rule XXIII, clause 18 (a),” the committee statement said.
In a statement Hill (D-Santa Clarita) sent to constituents, Hill denied she slept with a congressional staffer, which the conservative media outlet RedState identified as former finance director/current Legislative Director Graham Kelly.
But Hill acknowledged she was involved “in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize. I wish nothing but the best for her and hope everyone respects her privacy in this difficult time.”
She added that she would fully cooperate with the ethics committee and would not further comment until the investigation is complete.
Before the committee’s announcement, local Democrats were mostly silent, while local Republicans expressed outrage, concern and careful analysis.
RedState first broke the news last week. Hill is in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Kenny Heslep, who had known and apparently sanctioned the relationship with the female campaign staffer (RedState didn’t name her but said it was a three-way relationship). Heslep filed for divorce after he came to believe Hill was also allegedly sleeping with Kelly, RedState reported.
The House passed a resolution in February 2018 prohibiting sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees, which include congressional staffers. The rules say nothing about relationships with campaign staffers.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential candidate, sponsored a bill in December that President Trump eventually signed that mirrored many of the points in the House resolution, including an automatic referral to the chamber’s ethics committee once a complaint has been lodged.
Hill on Tuesday denied to various national media outlets that she slept with Kelly, and that the relationship with the campaign staffer was inappropriate.
“The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” Hill said in the statement. “I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain. This coordinated effort to try to destroy me and people close to me is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid.”
Politico reported that sources close to Hill and Democratic leadership aides dismissed the RedState report as coming from GOP operatives in California seeking to hurt the freshman lawmaker politically.
Of the 20 liberals and Democrats contacted for this story, three went on record. Diane Trautman, a former City Council candidate who attended Hill’s election-night party in November, first expressed shock and then skepticism, but also hoped that “we can get to the bottom of this for the benefit of anyone that feels wronged, and we can know the truth. I want to know the truth before I condemn anybody.”
She also asserted, “Anyone who sleeps with a staffer, it’s inappropriate, absolutely.”
Local podcaster Stephen Daniels, host of “Talk of Santa Clarita,” said he’s frustrated that the RedState articles combine the issues of Hill’s impending divorce from an alleged relationship with a congressional staffer into one story that confuses people.
“There’s no evidence of their relationship that would be a violation of ethics, except for a bitter ex-husband and some texts,” Daniels said. “Katie has denied it. I take her at her word unless something else comes out.”
Saugus school district board member David Barlavi texted that he wouldn’t comment until after Hill does. Once Hill issued her denial, Barlavi said, “I fully support Katie’s comments in the Politico article.”
None of the other 17 on the left commented. Only five answered their phones. The other side of the aisle, however, had no trouble commenting.
All three Republican congressional candidates weighed in. Angela Underwood-Jacobs said Hill’s behavior crossed an ethical boundary and called on her to resign now. “Why should Katie Hill be held to a different standard than anyone in the House?” she said.
Mark Cripe expressed sadness that the story broke the way it did and that he was only concerned with the ethics.” You represent the people, and you’re asked to be put in a spotlight,” Cripe said. “You represent a wide range of people that come from all walks of life. There’s a level of professionalism you’ve got to stick to.”
Cripe said he expected an ethics investigation, so to call for it seemed redundant to him. “She’s going to have to account for her decisions, and ultimately, the voters are going to decide,” he said.
Mike Garcia texted to say the allegations are “very serious and concerning. We should hold our representatives and elected officials to the highest standard. We expect them to conduct themselves with the utmost integrity and respect for the office and their constituents.”
Garcia also called for an investigation and texted, “The fact that our own representative is even subject to questions of inappropriate behavior while in office is concerning for our district. We expect and deserve better.”
Knight, whom Hill defeated in November, suggested there should be an ethics investigation if it’s proven Hill slept with a staffer. Even if it’s consensual, it poses a perception problem, he said.
“A sexual relationship changes how you deal with these people,” Knight said, adding he didn’t know of this happening with anyone he hung out with in Washington. “It starts to make the whole staff and the whole office uncomfortable.”
Trish Lester, president of the Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated, said paying a staffer you’re sleeping with “looks really bad” and that Hill should be punished if an investigation proves she committed ethics violations.
Bill Reynolds, a noted Hill critic, likened Hill’s situation to that of former President Bill Clinton.
“This is akin to Bubba Clinton having sex with Monica Lewinsky,” Reynolds said. “Here, you have a person in power with a staffer.”
Reynolds, talk-show host Joe Messina and CPA/Libertarian Matt Denny expressed concern that Hill could be subjected to blackmail, as there are photos of Hill with the female staffer. Hill currently serves on the Armed Services Committee, which affords her access to sensitive, secretive and national-security-related information and documents.
Denny wondered if this could cause Hill to lose her clearance, which would possibly hurt her aerospace-industry constituents. Reynolds said she should lose her clearance and her committee seat.
And Messina wrote on his The Real Side website, “With her lack of regard for rules and respect for the position she holds and her inability to really secure her information, can we really trust her to keep America safe?”