California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill announced that she will resign from Congress after news stories revealing her relationship with a young female campaign staffer and a House Ethics Committee investigation into another alleged romance between Hill and her legislative director.
“It is with a broken heart today that I announce my resignation from Congress. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” she wrote in a statement before accusing her “abusive husband” of “driving a smear campaign” against her and apologizing to her constituents.
Hill, 32, had been a rising star in the House Democratic freshman class when photos surfaced in October, showing her in a hotel room unclothed and brushing the hair of a female campaign staffer who worked on her successful 2018 bid to unseat Republican Rep. Steve Knight.
The Daily Mail published additional lurid photos of Hill, including one with her holding a bong, as well as text messages that appear to show campaign workers and her husband concerned about her drinking habits.
Hill admitted to the affair with the campaign staffer, which took place during her marriage to now-estranged husband Kenny Heslep. Heslep was also involved in the relationship with the campaign staffer.
Hill denies having an affair with legislative director Graham C. Kelly, who also worked on her campaign. She continued to pay consulting fees to the female campaign staffer, the Washington Examiner reported.
The House Ethics Committee announced on Oct. 23 it is opening an investigation into allegations she is engaged in a sexual relationship with Kelly, which is prohibited by House rules.
While the House bans members from having sexual relationships with congressional staffers, the rules do not expressly address relationships with campaign workers that take place prior to a member of Congress taking office.
Former freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Nevada Democrat, faced a House Ethics Committee investigation in 2017 after a campaign staffer accused him of sexual harassment. Kihuen abandoned his reelection bid after the House Ethics Committee launched an inquiry that later found he harassed women on his campaign staff.
The committee so far has not indicated it will look into Hill’s relationship with her female campaign staffer and is unlikely to do so now that she has resigned.
Hill’s resignation, which is expected to come by the end of next week, marks the end of a once-promising career in Congress, and her departure makes her the first female lawmaker to leave Congress over a sex scandal.
After defeating Knight, Hill quickly climbed the political ladder on Capitol Hill by becoming a member of the powerful House Armed Services Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
She leapfrogged over more senior Democrats to become vice chairwoman of the House Oversight panel, which is one of three committees conducting impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
Viewed as a rising star from a pivotal swing district, she also served as a freshman representative to the House Democratic Caucus, a junior leadership post.
Democrat leadership initially refused to discuss the circumstances surrounding Hill, but further questions about her story began to leak out, including additional graphic photos of the congresswoman and text messages that described the open three-way relationship between herself, Heslep, and the female campaign staffer as “dark” and “toxic.”
Hill, in an apology letter sent to constituents in October, said she engaged in a consensual affair with the female campaign staffer “despite my better judgment” and “during the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage” to Heslep.
She called the publication of the photos, which appeared first on the website RedState, “a crime.”
Heslep filed for divorce from Hill after he came to believe she was having an affair with Kelly, the male legislative director. Their divorce has been contentious. Hill is fighting Heslep’s effort to win spousal support. The couple has no children.
Hill’s resignation opens up the race for the 25th District seat.
Before losing to Hill, Knight had held the seat for only two terms.
The district voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but has kept the House seat in GOP hands since 1992, when Howard “Buck” McKean won the seat and held onto it until retiring in 2014.
The district’s Democratic primary will take place on March 3, and the filing deadline for candidates is Dec. 6. Four Democrats and three Republicans so far are running for a spot on the November ballot.