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Democratic Rep. Katie Hill denies relationship with congressional staffer

Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Katie Hill on Tuesday denied allegations she had an improper relationship with the man who is her legislative director. The California Democrat said in a statement her estranged husband is attempting to humiliate her and suggested there is a "coordinated effort" to destroy her.

On Friday, RedState, a self-described conservative blog, published an article detailing Hill's alleged relationships with 2018 campaign staffers. The first allegation involved a female campaign staffer who entered into a relationship with Hill and her husband. The second allegation is that Hill also had an extramarital affair with Graham Kelly, who worked for Hill's campaign and is now Hill's legislative director. A relationship with a current congressional staffer would be a violation of House rules.

"Allegations that I have been involved in a relationship with Mr. Kelly are absolutely false," Hill said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "I am saddened that the deeply personal matter of my divorce has been brought into public view and the vindictive claims of my ex have now involved the lives and reputations of unrelated parties."

Hill's denial was first reported by Politico.

Hill blamed her husband for the report. Attempts to reach him through his attorney were not immediately successful.

"The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me," she said.

Los Angeles Superior Court records show that Hill's husband, Kenneth Heslep, filed for divorce in July. Heslep's attorney, William Strachan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Members of Congress are barred from having a sexual relationship with their own staffers. House rules state that "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." The rule does not apply to two people who are married.

A potential violation of the code of conduct could trigger an Ethics Committee investigation and recommendation for punishment. Past violations of House rules have involved different punishments, ranging from expulsion and censure to a less severe reprimand.

Hill's statement did not address the allegation that she and her husband were in a relationship with a female campaign staffer. Hill, who is openly bisexual, did reference explicit photos that RedState published in its article, saying she has notified Capitol Police.

"Intimate photos of me and another individual were published by Republican operatives on the internet without my consent," Hill said. "I have notified Capitol Hill police who are investigating the situation and potential legal violations of those who posted and distributed the photos, and therefore will have no further comment on the digital materials."

 

Before Hill issued her statement, one of her potential Republican challengers, Lancaster City Councilmember Angela Underwood Jacobs, called on Hill to resign from Congress.

"While I believe that elected officials should be afforded a reasonable level of privacy, Ms. Hill's relationships with two different members of her staff cross the line of ethical boundaries that members of Congress should be held to," Underwood Jacobs said. "Ms. Hill's behavior exhibits extremely poor judgement -- it violates House ethics and it could have put our nation at risk due to her heightened potential to be blackmailed."

Hill slammed her political opponents, accusing them of exploiting her situation.

"I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain," Hill said. "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."

Hill has been open about her bisexuality since she ran for Congress last year. She defeated GOP Rep. Steve Knight by 9 percentage points in California's 25th District, which is north of Los Angeles and includes most of Simi Valley. Republicans are targeting Hill in 2020, hoping to win back a seat that had long been held by the GOP. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 25th District race Likely Democratic.

Since Hill came to Congress, she has emerged as one of the leaders of her freshman class. Hill and Colorado Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse are co-representatives of their class to leadership. The late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings tapped Hill to serve as vice chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

(Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.)

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