Jana Winter, Foreign Policy, December 14, 2017
A top congressional ethics official who oversees investigations into misconduct by lawmakers is accused in a federal lawsuit of verbally abusing and physically assaulting women and using his federal position to influence local law enforcement, according to a complaint filed in a federal court in Pennsylvania last month.
The ongoing lawsuit against Omar Ashmawy, staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics, stems from his involvement in a late-night brawl in 2015 in Milford, Pennsylvania, and includes a range of allegations relating to his behavior that evening and in the following two-and-half years.
Ashmawy’s office conducts the preliminary investigations into allegations of misconduct in the House of Representatives, deciding which cases to pursue or refer to the Committee on Ethics. He is named in congressional documents as the official who presented one of the investigations into John Conyers, the Democratic lawmaker from Michigan accused of sexual harassment, to the ethics committee for further action.
Among other allegations, Ashmawy is accused in the lawsuit of “threatening to use his position as staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics to induce a criminal proceeding to be brought against Plaintiff and/or others,” according to the federal lawsuit filed against him.
In court filings and in statements to Foreign Policy, Ashmawy denied the allegations laid out in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, Martucci [Greg Martucci, one of the men suing Ashmawy] on the night of Feb. 14, 2015, witnessed “an extremely violent and belligerent” Ashmawy become verbally abusive toward two women at Milford’s Dimmick Inn, Dawn Jorgenson — the wife of John Jorgenson, the owner of the bar — and Joey Lynn Smith, a bartender there.
Martucci also said he saw Ashmawy physically assaulting Dawn Jorgenson and Christina Floyd, another woman at the bar, a claim echoed in police statements given by the women and reviewed by FP.
According to a three-page statement dated March 12, 2015, Dawn Jorgenson said she witnessed Ashmawy “clearly sexually harassing” the bartender throughout the course of the evening and saw his behavior spiral toward physical violence. “You’ll give me drinks, but you won’t f— me,” Ashmawy allegedly said to the bartender, according to Dawn Jorgenson’s written statement.
She said she then saw Ashmawy block the bartender with his body and curse at her, and grab her by the wrists. Dawn Jorgenson said when she tried to intervene, Ashmawy turned against her. “He’s holding my wrist so tightly that he falls down to the ground landing to the left of me,” she wrote in her statement.
In statements given to police, the third woman, Christina Floyd, provided a similar account. “I watched each time Omar would come down and verbally sexually harass the bartender as he ordered drinks,” Floyd wrote in her statement, describing an increasingly angry Ashmawy confronting the bartender.
“I am a 5 foot 3 woman who never knew this man. I was very scared of him and was afraid he’d come back around for weeks after,” Floyd wrote of Ashmawy in her statement to police dated March 14, 2015. “I have never had a man physically harm me or scare me in that matter. He was sexually harassing, abusing and I feared for my life.”
The two other women described abuse at the hands of Ashmawy that same night, providing similar details. Ashmawy did not respond to FP’s follow-up email with additional questions, including if he was intoxicated that evening.
Two other people at the bar that night, however, said they saw only the men drag out Ashmawy — and did not witness his alleged attacks on the women.
In his lawsuit, Martucci accuses Ashmawy of using his political power and position with the Office of Congressional Ethics to pressure the police and the district attorney into not arresting him for assaulting the women. Martucci also alleges that Ashmawy threatened federal investigation of local government and police if they did not press charges against those accusing him of assault.
An email reviewed by FP from Ashmawy, using his congressional affiliation, to the police chief and officials at the district attorney’s office accuses them of not handling the case properly.