Politics

Rep. Katie Hill admits to 'inappropriate' relationship with staffer after announcement of ethics probe

Key Points
  • California Rep. Katie Hill confirms she had an inappropriate relationship with a female campaign staffer.
  • But she denied having a relationship with legislative director Graham Kelly, a member of her congressional office staff.
  • The House Committee on Ethics has opened a probe into whether Hill engaged in an inappropriate relationship. It is against congressional rules to have a relationship with a subordinate congressional staff member.
Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Zach Gibson | Getty Images

Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., has confirmed that she had an inappropriate relationship with a female campaign staffer.

But she denied on Wednesday having a relationship with legislative director Graham Kelly, a member of her congressional office staff.

The House Committee on Ethics said earlier Wednesday it has opened a probe into whether Hill engaged in an inappropriate relationship. It is against congressional rules to have a relationship with a subordinate congressional staff member.

The saga began after RedState, a conservative website, over the weekend published a series of articles and photos reporting that the lawmaker had been involved in a relationship with a female campaign staffer whose name was not released. Among the content published by RedState was a nude photo of Hill.

"Intimate photos of me and another individual were published by Republican operatives on the internet without my consent," the lawmaker told The Hill on Tuesday, referring to the materials as a "smear campaign."

On Wednesday, she admitted the relationship with the female campaign staffer, saying in a letter to constituents that she got involved with her "during the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage," the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment," the letter read.

Her husband, Kenneth Heslep, filed for divorce in July.

CNBC could not immediately locate Heslep for comment.

But she denies the relationship with Kelly, which was also alluded to in the Red State article.

Hill, a freshman Democrat, won the race for Southern California's 25th Congressional District against two-term Rep. Steve Knight during the 2018 midterm elections. Her victory was among those that propelled Democrats to a House majority.

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Hill, who is openly bisexual, has received support from Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. On Twitter, Gaetz called the probe "absurd," saying, "Katie isn't being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone – it is because she is different."

Committee rules say that members "may not engage in a sexual relationship with any employee of the House who works under the supervision of the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner." The House voted to implement this rule last year, following the rise of the #MeToo movement and allegations of sexual misconduct among lawmakers.

"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 said in a statement on Wednesday. "The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding the allegations."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which relationship Rep. Katie Hill admitted to having. The relationship she has confirmed is with a female campaign staffer.