The University of Texas at Austin has ended its investigation of state Sen. Charles Schwertner, concluding that the “available evidence does not support” a finding that the Georgetown Republican, accused of sending sexually-explicit text messages to a graduate student, had violated university policy and the federal gender equity law Title IX.
An executive summary of the report, released Tuesday, said Schwertner had not fully cooperated with investigators, but that it was “plausible” a third party had sent the lewd messages from an application that both that party and the senator had access to.
Schwertner said in a statement that this “unfortunate matter is now closed.”
I do not condone sexual misconduct of any kind,” he said, shortly after the summary’s release. “The University of Texas has closed their investigation because I did not send the offensive text messages in question.”
University spokespeople have repeatedly declined to comment, citing a need to preserve the integrity of the investigation.
The two-page executive summary says that Schwertner “refused to meet with” Johnny Sutton, an outside lawyer retained to help with the inquiry, or to “answer five questions that were designed to bring clarity to the investigation.” The summary says the senator did convey information through his attorneys, who told investigators that a third person sent the messages through an application called Hushed that “allows a user to purchase one or more private phone numbers to communicate via cell phone without revealing the user’s actual cell phone number or revealing that a text or call was sent through the Hushed app.”
Schwertner’s lawyers told investigators that the senator had shared the username and password for his LinkedIn and Hushed accounts with the third party, whom Schwertner knows but would not identify. An attorney for that party “did not disclose the third person’s relationship” with Schwertner, and did not reveal why the messages were sent, the summary says. That attorney also would not disclose the identity of the third party, but claimed the individual sent the messages without Schwertner’s prior knowledge and “signed an affidavit attesting to the truth of his or her statements.”
The summary concludes that it’s clear the student “received the uninvited and offensive text messages and photograph, and that she reasonably believed those came from” Schwertner.
“It is also clear that the text messages and photograph were not sent from” the senator’s cell phone, and that “though an unidentified third person, through an attorney, claims responsibility for sending the text messages and photograph, we cannot test the truthfulness of that claim,” it says.
The third party’s cell phone was not made available for investigators to review.
Schwertner’s “refusal to fully cooperate” prevented investigators from determining if he had multiple devices from which the messages could have been sent, the summary says, and the university lacks the authority to compel Schwertner to provide more information.
Schwertner’s lawyers, David Minton and Perry Minton, said Tuesday that the university had contacted their offices to say the allegations against their client were “unsubstantiated,” and that the school would take no further action.
“While we were very disappointed in how this process started, we are grateful that our statements of the senator’s innocence in this matter have now been confirmed,” the lawyers said.
Schwertner had been “eager” to have his lawyers coordinate an interview, during which he could answer investigators’ questions, the Mintons said. But upon discovering that the confidentiality afforded the student would not be extended to Schwertner, the lawyers said they “declined to subject the senator to such an unfair process.”
Schwertner, an orthopedic surgeon, was elected to the state House in 2010, and to the Senate in 2012, where he rose to chair the upper chamber’s powerful health and human services committee. On Nov. 6, he won re-election with 55.4 percent of the vote, fending off a Democratic challenger who said the incumbent senator was “unfit to serve in office” if the allegation of harassment was substantiated. Schwertner’s Senate biography identifies him as a physician, business owner and family man.
No complaints had been filed about Schwertner with the secretary of the Senate, according to public information requests received in October. A spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the Senate, said Tuesday that he was reviewing the materials released by the university.
A letter previously sent from the university to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office suggests UT-Austin’s investigation was conducted by the university’s Title IX office, and the office for inclusion and equity, which helps investigate allegations of harassment and misconduct. Sutton’s firm was contracted to “provide legal advice and counsel concerning student Title IX and related matters,” according to its contract, which said the firm would be paid a maximum of $50,000 for its work.
Earlier on Tuesday, the university released a separate set of records that provide detail about the start of the inquiry.
The documents, obtained under open records laws and redacted, include messages on LinkedIn, text messages and correspondence between Schwertner’s staff and the graduate student. The content of many of the messages is professional, pertaining to the student’s interest in health care and policy work.
In late August, months after their correspondence first began, a LinkedIn account bearing Schwertner’s name wrote to the student: “Hope you’re getting my texts I sent you.”
The student responded: “Please stop the inappropriate texts, it is unprofessional.”
The university provided printouts of text messages sent from a 512 phone number that say: “Sorry. I really just wanted to fuck you,” “This is Charles,” “Send a pic?” and “Hello? Want to just use LinkedIn? Or my main cell?”
“It’s me. Want me to prove?” the author of the text writes. “And I have more proof of life ;)”
The next messages in the exchange are redacted. The student responded: “Please stop, this is unprofessional. I’m a student interested in learning about Healthcare Policy. These advances are unwanted.”
A call placed to the 512 phone number was not answered Tuesday. The documents released by the university include an image of Schwertner’s embossed business card — “State Senator District 5” — with a hand-scrawled phone number in the bottom right corner that matches the number on the text message exchange.
The university also provided correspondence between the student and members of its Title IX office, including what look like internal notes, headed “Details surrounding the incident.”
In response to questions about the text message and photo, the notes suggest the student said: “I felt like he took something away from me because of the text,” and “It pissed me off. I worked hard to get here.”
Details of the university’s investigation into Schwertner were made public in September, in an Austin American-Statesman report that cited three unnamed UT officials.
Schwertner’s lawyers, the Mintons, took aim at the anonymous officials Tuesday, saying they needed to be removed for future university investigations to be credible.
“This process is inherently flawed as it started with an illegal leak,” they said.