An allegation that Oregon Rep. David Wu engaged in sexual misconduct with the teenage daughter of a friend has forced the Democrat out of next year’s election and renewed questions about his fitness for office. An Oregon paper broke news of the allegation on Friday, and by Sunday night, a senior Democratic official said the seven-term congressman wouldn’t run for reelection. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation, but despite mounting calls to resign, the seven-term congressman has declined to step down.
Wu has given scandal-mongers no shortage of fodder over the last year. He has had troubles with alcohol and pills, and experienced a staff exodus after winning reelection in November. His erratic behavior was famously captured in a photo that circulated in February of the congressman dressed up like a tiger for Halloween. That same month, he opened up on Good Morning America about his mental health issues, saying that counseling and medication had helped him reach “a good place.” But the latest allegation, if true, suggests his problems may have had more lasting consequences.
The encounter allegedly took place around Thanksgiving, capping a problematic autumn during which his staff considered hospitalizing him after he displayed erratic behavior. The context, according to the Oregonian, the paper that first reported on the incident:
A distraught young woman called U.S. Rep. David Wu’s Portland office this spring, accusing him of an unwanted sexual encounter, according to multiple sources. When confronted, the Oregon Democrat acknowledged a sexual encounter to his senior aides but insisted it was consensual, the sources said. The woman is the daughter of a longtime friend and campaign donor. She apparently did not contact police at the time.
Though the paper did not print her name, the article suggested that the woman in question is likely around 19 years old. Wu is 56. The woman’s family has declined to speak to the press, thus far leaving no further explanation for the call she made in May. Two sources told the Oregonian there wouldn’t be enough evidence for the woman to press charges and that there were no witnesses. The controversy could well end up a game of he said/she said.
Wu is not saying anything yet. He has not admitted or denied any wrongdoing and, after days of prodding, issued only a one-sentence statement: “This is very serious, and I have absolutely no desire to bring unwanted publicity, attention, or stress to a young woman and her family.” So far, he has evaded swarming reporters on Capitol Hill, and his spokesman Erik Dorey declined to comment for this article.
New York Rep. Steve Israel, the party’s campaign committee chair, has echoed Pelosi’s call for an ethics probe. And Pelosi sent a brief letter to the ethics committee on Monday morning, citing both the allegations and Wu’s response in formalizing her request for an investigation.
Even before the sexual allegations emerged, Wu had drawn two primary challengers and Democrats in Washington had begun to distance themselves from his cause. Members of Wu’s staff staged interventions in the run up to the November election and protected him for months before speaking to the press. Now it seems it could be a matter of when and how, rather than if, Wu leaves office.