Until recently, Katie Hill was a new member of the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating Republican incumbent Steve Knight in November 2018 as part of the Democrats’ “blue wave.”
She represented California’s 25th District:
From January 1, 2019 until her resignation at the end of October:
Whatever important things Hill did during her time in office, nothing garnered attention like the headlines that began in mid-October:
Stories like this began appearing after the website RedState.com, described as a “conservative political blog,” posted stories about Hill with nude photos, private texts, and headlines that included Bisexual Rep. Katie Hill Allegedly Left Her Husband For Her (Male) Legislative Director and, CA Rep. Katie Hill Allegedly Involved Female Staffer In 2-Yr ‘Throuple’ Relationship.
I haven’t read past those headlines, nor will I.
Another member of the U.S. Congress behaving badly?
Hill denied the affair with the (male) legislative director, Graham Kelly. He’s a House employee and a relationship with him would be a violation of House rules.
She did not deny the relationship with the campaign (female) staff member.
After the RedState.com stories appeared, Hill talked about “the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives who seem to happily provide a platform to a monster who is driving a smear campaign built around cyber exploitation.”
Hill and her husband of nine years, Kenny Heslep, are in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.
As for her reference to “hateful political operatives,” on October 31 the Los Angeles Times stated that “The main authors of the articles were former campaign advisors to Steve Knight, the Republican congressman ousted by Hill a year ago.”
Knight denied having anything to do with anything, and didn’t respond to requests for interviews.
Heslep, who in September had told a podcaster that he was ready to talk publicly about his split with Hill, now wasn’t responding to requests for interviews. According to his parents, Heslep claimed his computer had been hacked just before the images of Hill were published.
Events moved quickly. The House had adopted rules last year that bar members of Congress from having sexual relationships with subordinates – as Hill was accused of having with Kelly – and the House Ethics Committee began an investigation.
Hill admitted to a consensual relationship with the female campaign aide, but continued to deny a relationship with Kelly.
Hill decided to resign. Again, according to the Los Angeles Times, Hill advised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she planned to step down, but Pelosi urged her to say and fight, at least for a while longer.
“I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” she said in a statement addressing the ethics inquiry. “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 the people close to me is despicable and will not succeed.”
But the effort did succeed. Because they – the people who revealed the stories along with Hill’s photos and texts – succeeded.
In her resignation speech on October 31 Hill said, in part,
“Yes, I am stepping down, but I refuse to let this experience scare off other women who dare to take risks, who dare to step into this light, who dare to be powerful. The way to overcome this setback is for women to keep showing up, to keep running for office, to keep stepping up as leaders. Because the more we show up, the less power they have.”
She also said,
“I am leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality, and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching. I am leaving because of the thousands of vile, threatening emails, texts and calls that made me fear for my life and the lives of the people I care about.”
And, at the end,
“So today as my last vote, I voted on impeachment proceedings, not just because of corruption, obstruction of justice, or gross misconduct but because of the deepest abuse of power – including the abuse of power of women.
“Today as my final act I voted to move forward with the impeachment of Donald Trump on behalf of the women of the United States of America.”
I think it’s worth pausing to think about what Hill did.
She was being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for a possible sexual relationship with a subordinate, which she denied. Nothing was proven or resolved before her resignation.
She’d had a consensual sexual relationship with a campaign staff member, which she admitted. That staffer may have been involved in a “throuple” with Hill and Heslep.
She’d posed for photos with and without that campaign staff member, and in some of them, Hill was nude.
She’d allegedly posted those photos, nude and otherwise, on an online site several years ago.
So far, none of this is illegal.
What it is – is dumb.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Hill forgot the #1 rule in our online world:
Once in cyberspace – always in cyberspace.
She had to know that posting nude photos of herself online, and of herself and the female campaign staffer, was leaving her vulnerable to future exposure. She ran for and won a political office, knowing those photos were out there, just waiting to be revealed by someone.
Someone – perhaps the unemployed, vindictive husband she was divorcing, who had to borrow money from his parents to hire a divorce lawyer, and whined, “I am not looking for anything excessive, she is still fighting even basic spousal support.”
Someone – perhaps the vindictive Republican opponent whom she soundly defeated in 2018, capturing the last Republican-held U.S. House seat anchored in Los Angeles County.
Hill also forgot the #1 rule in our political world:
Do what you want, but don’t get caught.
Forgetting these two rules were Katie Hill’s only “crimes.”
And lest we forget, misconduct – sexual and otherwise – by politicians has been around as long as politicians have been around. Here’s a by-no-means-complete list of members of Congress who recently got caught:
|Representative Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) was investigated by the House Ethics Committee amid allegations of sexual harassment. He completed his term and chose not to run for re-election.|
|Representative John Conyers (D-MI) resigned after paying a sexual harassment settlement to a former staffer.|
|Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) resigned after multiple reports of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers.|
|Senator Al Franken (D-MN) resigned after eight women accuse him of sexual misconduct.|
|Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX) resigned after news broke that he had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with $84,000 of taxpayer money.|
|Representative Pat Meehan (R-PA) announced his resignation following reports that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint with a former aide.|
|Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) acknowledged he both took and emailed nude photos of himself, then decided not to seek re-election after the photos were leaked.|
|Representative Timothy Murphy (R-PA), married and an outspoken opponent of abortion, resigned when he was revealed to have strongly encouraged his mistress to get an abortion.|
|Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is charged with misuse of campaign funds, including financing romantic flings with lobbyists and congressional aides. His trial is set for January 2020.|
|Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) was never charged with sexual misconduct, but rather accused of, and plead guilty to, insider trading charges. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 17.|
Not all members of Congress resign when they’re caught. Some go through an investigation and are exonerated. Some are not. Some finish out their terms, some don’t.
Some are still members of Congress.
Hill could have stayed, and continued serving.
But the exploitation of Hill’s sexuality (she was the first openly bisexual member of the House), the supposedly “pornographic” photos, and the systematic, organized destruction of her professional and personal lives overwhelmed her. She was, understandably, afraid of more photos being released, more personal information revealed, more pain.
And her enemies were too strong, and totally committed to bringing Hill’s House seat back into the Republican fold.
I find it perfectly ironic that the among the first people to announce their candidacy for Hill’s seat is not Knight, her former opponent, but rather George Papadopoulos, Trump’s former campaign adviser and a convicted felon:
According to the October 29 Daily Beast,
“Former foreign policy advisor to President Trump and author George Papadopoulos is now running to put California’s 25th Congressional District seat back in Republican hands,” reads a statement on Papadopoulos’ newly minted campaign website. “Help fight back against Democrat corruption by joining George’s campaign today!”
Perfect: A Republican convicted felon fighting back “against Democrat corruption.”
The Hill story aftermath?
Hill has already been added to the online Congressional Misconduct Database, and Wikipedia’s list of Federal Political Sex Scandals in the United States.
She’ll be grist for the media mill for another week or two, then fade from the headlines.
Hill’s name will appear in stories during the Papadopoulos and other campaigns to fill her House seat, with many of those stories continuing to emphasize words like “bisexual” and “throuple” and/or “nude photos.”
For now, Hill is out of office, out of work, and I assume out of the home she shared with Heslep.
She will, at some point, start picking up the pieces of her life, and her life will go on.
So yes – I feel sorry for Katie Hill.
Just as I felt sorry for another woman named Hill who, 28 years ago, was also disrespected by men, battered by the media, and left to pick up the pieces of her life.
And I feel sorry about how little things have changed.
|1991: Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas hearings, and several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee’s questions to Hill included “Are you a scorned woman?”|