Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fla., finds himself in some seriously hot water today. ABC News' investigative team is reporting that Mahoney paid $121,000 in a settlement with a former mistress he fired from his congressional staff. And that's only the beginning.
Mahoney met the woman involved, Patricia Allen, during his 2006 campaign, and the affair reportedly began then. She volunteered on Mahoney's campaign and later got a job on his congressional staff in Florida -- her salary of $36,000 a year was paid for by taxpayer money. ABC reports that Allen was then moved to Mahoney's campaign staff "after complaints about the affair circulated in Washington."
When Allen learned that the married congressman was having other affairs, ABC says, she tried to break off their relationship, and told friends that Mahoney said the end of their relationship would also mean the end of her job.
The network has obtained a tape of a telephone call between the two in which Mahoney fired Allen. Here's part of their conversation, as reported by ABC:
"You work at my pleasure ... If you do the job that I think you should do, you get to keep your job. Whenever I don't feel like you're doing your job, then you lose your job," Mahoney can be heard telling Allen.
"And guess what? The only person that matters is guess who? Me. You understand that. That is how life really is. That is how it works," Mahoney says on the call.
"You're fired," Mahoney tells her. "Do you hear me? Don't tell me whether it's correct or not."
Allen says, "Tell me why else I'm fired."
"There is no why else," Mahoney responds.
Later, Allen says, "You're firing me for other reasons. You don't, you're not man enough to say it. So why don't you say it."
Allen reportedly hired a lawyer and threatened to sue her former employer; the two settled out of court for a total of $121,000. Allen was also promised a $50,000 a year job, for two years, at the agency that handles Mahoney's campaign advertising, ABC reports.
There's a special irony to this story. Mahoney's seat in Congress was once occupied by former Rep. Mark Foley, who was himself brought down by a scandal that began in October 2006 with an ABC News report. And in Foley's case, the fact that his party's leadership in the House had apparently looked the other way when it came to the errant congressman hurt Republicans that year. This year, it could be the Democratic Party that gets hurt by the connection to Mahoney.
Senior Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives, including Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the chair of the Democratic Caucus, have been working with Mahoney to keep the matter from hurting his re-election campaign, Mahoney staffers said.
A spokesperson for Emanuel denies that account, but said Emanuel did confront Mahoney "upon hearing a rumor" about an affair in 2007 and "told him he was in public life and had a responsibility to act accordingly." The spokesperson added that it was a "private conversation" that had nothing to do with Mahoney's re-election prospects.
Emanuel's spokesperson said Emanual had not had any further contacts with Mahoney on the subject and did not know the woman involved worked on Mahoney's Congressional staff until informed by ABC News.