Housing Finance Director, Mel Watt, Investigated for Sexual Harassment

WASHINGTON — Melvin L. Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is under investigation for allegedly sexually harassing a female employee, the agency said on Friday.

Mr. Watt is nearing the end of his five-year term running the agency, which oversees the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Mr. Watt, a Democrat who was appointed in 2013 by President Barack Obama, said on Friday that he was the victim of politically motivated leaks and that he broke no laws.

“The selective leaks related to this matter are obviously intended to embarrass or to lead to an unfounded or political conclusion,” Mr. Watt said in a statement. “However, I am confident that the investigation currently in progress will confirm that I have not done anything contrary to law.”

Mr. Watt said he would not further discuss the situation while the investigation was in progress.

The investigation, which was first reported by Politico, is being carried out by the United States Postal Service. A spokesman for the Postal Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to documents and transcripts of recorded conversations obtained by Politico, Mr. Watt, 72, made several unwanted sexual advances to a female employee who wanted to discuss her career and salary. During one encounter in 2016, Mr. Watt reportedly proposed exploring what he perceived to be a mutual attraction. The employee rebuffed Mr. Watt’s advance and filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, according to Politico.

Diane Seltzer Torre, a lawyer representing the woman, confirmed that her client’s complaint was the focus of the investigation. She said her client was not the one who made the documents public and that she was not seeking attention.

“She really just wants the investigation to go forward,” Ms. Torre said. “She’s an unwilling and unwitting focus of the media right now.”

A Yale-educated lawyer, Mr. Watt was a Democratic congressman from North Carolina before Mr. Obama tapped him to lead the housing finance agency. Mr. Watt is one of the few Obama-era appointees that has remained in place at a major government agency under President Trump.

The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have made the overhaul of federal housing finance policy a priority for the second half of Mr. Trump’s term. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which support the housing market by purchasing huge volumes of mortgages issued by banks, have been under government conservatorship since the 2008 financial crisis. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has said that he would like to eventually see Fannie and Freddie return to private ownership.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Housing Finance Director Is Accused of Harassment. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


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