With A 'Broken Heart,' Katie Hill Announces She Is Resigning From Congress Amid Ethics Investigation

Katie Hill speaks to her supporters at The Canyon restaurant in Valencia on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by Susanica Tam/LAist)

Freshman Congresswoman Katie Hill, a Democrat who scored a surprising victory in a traditionally Republican district, announced Sunday that she will leave Congress in her first term amid an ethics investigation.

Hill represents the 25th Congressional district, which sprawls across parts of northern Los Angeles County and Ventura County, taking in Palmdale, Lancaster, Simi Valley and Santa Clarita.

She tweeted a full statement about her decision, written on her Congressional stationary, shortly after Politico reported that she would step down.

"It is with a broken heart that today I announce my resignation from Congress," Hill wrote. "This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents, my community, and our country."

[UPDATE: On Monday, Hill posted the following video to YouTube discussing her decision to step down. "I said the fight continues," Hill tweeted, along with a link to the video. "I mean it, and I hope you're with me."]

Hill, 32, has been embroiled in a bitter divorce. In her statement Sunday, she called her estranged husband "abusive," and said she is the victim of a "smear campaign built around cyber exploitation."

Several websites in the past week published intimate photos of the Congresswoman without her consent.

"Those of you who know me personally know that I'm a fighter," Hill said, indicating she will turn her energies after Congress to fighting revenge porn and cyber bullying.

"Now my fight is going to be to defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victims to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light."

[Note: We have reached out to Hill and are also trying to reach her husband, Kenny Heslep.]

HER ROAD TO WASHINGTON

Hill beat Republican incumbent Steve Knight to win the 25th Congressional District by about 9 points.

Her victory was part of a "blue wave" of wins by Democrats in the 2018 midterms, ushering in a record number of women to serve in the 116th Congress. Her district was once solidly Republican but the demographics have shifted in recent years. In the 2016 presidential race, voters in the 25th picked Democrat Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Hill was one of the first openly bisexual persons to win a Congressional seat, which she appears to reference in her statement Sunday.

"I hope it showed others that they do belong, that their voice does matter, and they do have a place in this country," Hill wrote.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

On Wednesday, the House Ethics committee opened an investigation into accusations that Hill had a sexual relationship with her Legislative Director.

Hill flatly denied allegations of the relationship, which first surfaced on the conservative website Red State. An affair with a subordinate would violate new House rules barring relationships between members of Congress and anyone they supervise in their congressional offices or committees on which they serve.

In a statement, the leading Democrat and Republican on the Ethics Committee said they were gathering information. They emphasized the investigation did not indicate a violation actually happened.

The Congresswoman also said last week she had contacted Capitol Police about photos of herself and a female campaign aide that were published by the same conservative site and the Daily Mail.

Hill's supporters said the photos could be considered revenge porn, which is illegal in California and the District of Columbia.

In a letter to constituents on Wednesday, Hill said she was in a consensual relationship with the campaign aide — she called it inappropriate, but something that happened despite her better judgement because she was going through a difficult divorce from her husband.

A relationship with a campaign employee is not explicitly forbidden by House rules, but the Ethics Committee has previously investigated alleged misconduct during campaigns.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the following statement Sunday:

"Congresswoman Katie Hill came to Congress with a powerful commitment to her community and a bright vision for the future, and has made a great contribution as a leader of the Freshman Class. She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces."

Hill served on the Armed Services Committee, and was voted to serve in a junior leadership role in the House. Her high profile — and frequent appearances on cable news — also helped her fundraise: as of a Sept 30 FEC filing, Hill had over $1.5 million cash on hand for her 2020 reelection campaign.

SUPPORTERS RESPOND

Many Hill volunteers, who put in long hours to help her emerge from a competitive primary and ultimately defeat an incumbent Congressman to claim the seat, are sticking by her.

"It's been really devastating to watch," said Resa Barillas, a delegate to the state Democratic Party and Democratic activist who knocked on doors for Hill. "It's horrible to see a woman who so many of us have worked so hard for be railroaded."

Barillas acknowledges there are ethical concerns with Hill's former relationship with a campaign staffer.

"It is inappropriate for someone to date a subordinate," she said. "To that end, it is arguably disqualifying."

But that lapse in judgement has overshadowed the abusive release of compromising photos that Hill and the campaign staffer are facing, according to Barillas. "This is cruelly vindictive and is textbook abuse," she said. "It is a sex crime. And it's awful a lot of media have bought into it."

Barillas said she is also concerned about what she sees as the public naming and shaming of the campaign aid. "That's one of the most painful parts," she said. "First and foremost we have a responsibility to survivors to protect their anonymity and privacy."

WHAT'S NEXT?

Under California law, Governor Gavin Newsom has 14 days to call a special election to fill the 25th district seat. It's unclear when that election will be held, but many observers are banking Newsom will schedule the vote to coincide with the March 3 presidential primary.

"You already have a high-profile, high-turnout election going on," said Larry Becker, professor of political science at Cal State University Northridge. "It makes sense from a strategic standpoint for Democrats, and it would also save money."

Four Republicans have filed to challenge Hill. The top two fundraisers so far are Santa Clarita resident Michael Garcia and Lancaster councilwoman Angela Underwood-Jacobs.

Hours after Hill announced her resignation, former Congressman Steve Knight said on social media he is "looking to" get into the race.

Statement from former CA-25 Representative Steve Knight's Facebook Page. (Facebook)

"[W]e are entering uncharted waters," he said in a post on Facebook. "I am looking to run and am thankful for all the calls encouraging me to return to Congress."

The political party affiliation of registered voters in the 25th district, according to Feb 2019 data from the California Secretary of State's office: roughly 36 percent Democrat, 31 percent Republican and 26 percent No Party Preference.

We will have more on this developing story

UPDATES:

8:05 p.m. This article was updated to include statements from Nancy Pelosi and Steve Knight.

5:04 p.m.
This article updated with more from Hill's statement.

4:46 p.m: This articles updated with additional details from Hill's statements and additional background.

4:34 p.m.: This article was updated to include more information about Hill's win, assignments in Congress and prospective challengers

This article was originally published at 4:19 p.m.