The House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Tom Reed, citing reports of sexual and other misconduct by the Florida and New York Republicans.
"The committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Tom Reed may have engaged in sexual misconduct, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct. The committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding the allegations," the panel's statement read Friday.
Reed was accused of rubbing a female lobbyist’s back and unhooking her bra without her consent at a networking event in a Minneapolis pub in 2017. The lobbyist, Nicolette Davis, told The Washington Post that Reed appeared to be drunk when he touched her back and leg as the two were seated next to each other during a networking trip.
Reed, 49, said in a statement that the incident involving then-lobbyist Nicolette Davis occurred “at a time in my life in which I was struggling.” He said he entered treatment that year and realized he was “powerless over alcohol.”
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Reed apologized to his wife and children, and to Davis, and said he planned “to dedicate my time and attention to making amends for my past actions.”
The House panel’s bipartisan probe is one of the first official indications Gaetz’s party leaders are willing to scrutinize his actions. It also appears sweeping in scope, reaching beyond the reports of sexual misconduct into broader allegations of public corruption, according to the committee chairman, Rep. Ted Deutsch, D-Fla., and ranking Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana.
Unfolding alongside a federal criminal investigation, the ethics probe ensures Gaetz will have to confront simultaneous inquiries even as he maintains his innocence and plans to remain in Congress.
“The committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct,” said Deutsch and Walorski.
The two statements revealing apparently separate probes into Gaetz and Reed both noted that an investigation "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."
The Ethics Committee conducts its work in secret and usually issues a final report on what it finds, often many months later. Punishment for ethics violations is up to the House and can include censure, fines and even expulsion from Congress.
Reed's office did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment, but said in a statement to Politico: "We have already publicly addressed this situation and consistent with that are cooperating with the House Ethics Committee to bring this matter to conclusion."
"Once again, the office will reiterate, these allegations are blatantly false and have not been validated by a single human being willing to put their name behind them," Gaetz's office said in a statement to CNBC.
Reed, who was first elected to Congress in 2010, had been among the members of Congress calling for the resignation of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo over sexual harassment allegations. In late February, Reed said he was seriously considering running for governor against Cuomo should the Democrat seek a fourth term next year.