Politics & Government

Federal housing leader Mel Watt under investigation for sexual harassment claim

Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA
Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA Bloomberg

Mel Watt, a former Democratic congressman from Charlotte who now heads a federal housing agency, is under investigation for harassment of a female employee.

Politico first reported the allegations Friday, citing documents and partial transcripts of conversations between Watt and the employee, which the story did not name. The story describes three 2016 incidents of Watt making sexual advances on the woman.

A statement from Watt through the Federal Housing Finance Agency to McClatchy confirmed an ongoing investigation, as did an attorney for the woman.

“The selective leaks related to this matter are obviously intended to embarrass or to lead to an unfounded or political conclusion. However, I am confident that the investigation currently in progress will confirm that I have not done anything contrary to law. I will have no further comment while the investigation is in progress,” said Watt, who is the agency’s director.

The investigation began a month or two ago, said Diane Seltzer Torre, an attorney for the woman who alleges the harassment. Torre said the investigation is being conducted by an official with the U.S. Postal Service. It is typical for an outside agency to investigate claims such as these.

“My client did not submit information to the media. She is not looking for attention and doesn’t want to talk to the media,” Torre said.

Torre declined to identify her client nor would she discuss her client’s employment status with the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

She said she is not aware of any other complaints against Watt.

Watt, 72, represented Charlotte in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2014, when he was tapped by President Barack Obama to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The agency oversees Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHLBanks, which provide nearly $6 trillion for mortgage markets and financial institutions, according to FHFA.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency was created after the housing crash in 2008 and it serves as the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Watt was confirmed by the Senate 57-41 months after he was nominated. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina was one of two Republicans to back Watt’s nomination.

Watt’s five-year term is set to expire in January. Watt is still on the job, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

Watt, an attorney, is married and has two grown children and three grandchildren, according to his FHFA bio. A Mecklenburg County native, Watt graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill before earning a law degree at Yale. He served one term in the North Carolina state senate.

While in the U.S. House in 2011, Watt tried to slash funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics by 40 percent, a move that was soundly defeated. Watt and seven colleagues were investigated and cleared by the office for fundraising that took place before a key House vote.

In 2008, Watt had voted to create the Office of Congressional Ethics.

“I wouldn’t call it a ‘personal vendetta,’” Watt told McClatchy at the time. “But I also wouldn’t deny that my experiences had something to do with my view of this agency.”

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC