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Horsford's extramarital affair with former Senate staffer shows how narrow House rules are

Chris Marquette, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Steven Horsford had an extramarital affair with a former Senate intern spanning several years, an example that highlights how narrow the House prohibition against lawmakers sleeping with congressional staffers is.

Gabriela Linder, the woman with whom Horsford had a sexual relationship, told The Las Vegas Review-Journal that the affair began in 2009 and continued sporadically until it ended in 2019. When they met, Horsford, a Nevada Democrat, was a 36-year old state senator; Linder, then 21, was in college and worked as an intern for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Horsford didn't begin his first stint representing Nevada's 4th Congressional District until 2013 -- after Linder stopped working for Reid. If Horsford were to have had a sexual relationship with Linder while he was a member and she was working in the Senate, although there is no indication he did, it would have been permissible under House rules.

Shelbie Bostedt, a spokesperson for Horsford, issued an emailed statement on behalf of the congressman: "It is true that I had a previous consensual relationship with another adult outside of my marriage, over the course of several years. I'm deeply sorry to all of those who have been impacted by this very poor decision, most importantly my wife and family."

Horsford is married with three children.

Even the congressional reforms in response to recent sexual misconduct revealed on Capitol Hill and through the #MeToo movement would not have prohibited the relationship. In 2018, the House outlawed sexual relationships between members and their staff. A member of the House or a senator can engage in a consensual sexual relationship with a staffer as long as that person is not under their supervision.

The rule for the 116th Congress states: "A Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner 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, or who is an employee of a committee on which the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner serves. This paragraph does not apply with respect to any relationship between two people who are married to each other."

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president at the watchdog group Public Citizen, said she was encouraged by the prohibition but noted that she believes there is room for improvement.

"Unfortunately, it is limited to the House and limited to specific situations when you are in a congressman or congresswoman's office. So, unfortunately, a situation like this is outside the bounds of the new law," Gilbert said.

"Positions of power can be felt even if you're not in the same congressional office," she added.

Linder, who gave $1,000 to Horsford's campaign in 2018, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Horsford's second term in Congress began in 2018 when he won the seat formerly occupied by Ruben Kihuen, a fellow Democrat. Kihuen chose not to run for reelection a day after the House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating whether he sexually harassed women he worked with.

The Ethics Committee formally rebuked Kihuen's sexual harassment of women, in what is called a reproval, for his misconduct and found he "made persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities." In testimony deemed "credible" by the Ethics panel, a campaign staffer who worked for Kihuen told the committee that Kihuen touched her thigh on two occasions, commented on her appearance, suggested they should get a hotel room together and asked her if she would ever cheat on her boyfriend.

Molly Forgey, a spokesperson for the Nevada Democratic Party, did not respond to a request for comment. Specifically, she did not answer questions about the circumstances of two back-to-back Democrats from the same congressional district who have been mired in scandal. She did not answer a question about whether this calls into question the way in which they vet their candidates.

 

Linder told the Review-Journal that Horsford appeared on her young son's YouTube show, which has 46 subscribers, in April. Horsford spoke about the coronavirus pandemic on the show's inaugural episode, titled "Namaste," which Linder claimed was filmed using Horsford's congressional staff.

For each Congress, members are provided with a Members' Representational Allowance to conduct their official duties, including staff salaries, travel and office equipment. This money can only be used for official expenses.

Asked if Horsford filmed the YouTube show segment using official resources, whether it was filmed in Horsford's congressional office and for what reason the lawmaker took the time to participate, Bostedt did not address any of those questions.

A complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics was filed against Horsford by Americans for Public Trust, a Republican-led organization, in which they cite the YouTube show appearance as a possible violation of House rules.

Neither the House Ethics Committee nor the Office of Congressional Ethics provided any clarity on whether Horsford could face any scrutiny from them.

Tom Rust, staff director for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment. William Beaman, a spokesperson for the Office of Congressional Ethics, also declined comment.

In her "Mistress for Congress" podcast, Linder said Horsford "looked out for me over the years from anything from a job recommendation to financial support."

Bostedt said, "Steven never used campaign or official funds to provide financial support to Ms. Linder."

Horsford has no plans to resign and faces a crowded June 9 primary.

"This former personal relationship has no bearing on the congressman's ability to fight for the people of Nevada and he fully intends to serve them in this Congress, and beyond," Bostedt said.

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