Inside Tim Murphy's
reign of terror
The anti-abortion lawmaker's abortion scandal was just the tipping point. Former aides say abuse inside his office was rampant.
By RACHAEL BADE, JAKE
SHERMAN and JOHN BRESNAHAN
Rep. Tim Murphy, a staunch anti-abortion advocate, thought he could withstand the media furor that engulfed him after reports that he’d encouraged his extramarital lover to end her apparent pregnancy.
He was wrong.
Just one day after announcing he would retire after the 2018 election, Murphy reversed course and told Speaker Paul Ryan he was resigning effective Oct. 21. Murphy’s abrupt decision ended a 15-year career on Capitol Hill in a shocking manner. The 65-year-old Pennsylvania Republican was so safe in his conservative district that Democrats hadn’t even fielded an opponent against him during the past two election cycles.
Ironically, Murphy’s swift collapse came not because of text messages he sent to a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair, encouraging her to have an abortion as first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday. In fact, fears among senior Republicans about a potential wave of negative stories on how Murphy ran his congressional office were what ultimately pushed him out the door.
Multiple top House Republicans during the past 24 hours pressured Murphy to resign once it became clear that the House Ethics Committee might have to investigate allegations tied to his reported mistreatment of staffers. Numerous GOP sources were aware of systemic problems in Murphy’s office, including high staff turnover, which had been the topic of gossip and speculation for years.
The Post-Gazette had reported on a June 2017 memo in which Murphy’s longtime chief of staff, Susan Mosychuk, warned the Pennsylvania Republican that he was mistreating and “harassing” staff, causing 100 percent turnover.
But Mosychuk is a source of controversy herself.
A number of former Murphy staffers told POLITICO that it was Mosychuk’s behavior that drove them to leave Murphy's office. And these ex-aides said the combination of Murphy and Mosychuk — who had a close personal relationship, according to GOP lawmakers and staffers — made the situation intolerable. Mosychuk was promoted to Murphy’s chief of staff in 2004, just a year after becoming his legislative director.
According to these aides, Mosychuk regularly engaged in brutal verbal abuse of lower-ranking aides, from calling aides “worthless” and their work “garbage” to asking derisively, “Do you or do you not have a fucking college degree?”
Ex-staffers said Mosychuk kept white noise machines throughout Murphy’s congressional office so constituents waiting in the front room couldn’t hear her screaming. If Mosychuk was angry at staffers, she would make them take the stairs instead of the elevator, so they couldn’t ride with her, according to one former employee who witnessed it.
Mosychuk would even call staffers out of their bathroom breaks to demand they return to the office, or yell at them for taking too long to use the restroom. Many younger aides did not take lunch breaks, eating at their desks because they were scolded for leaving. One new employee quit after just a couple days because he was dressed down for using a paper clip instead of a staple on a briefing packet, multiple sources said.
“It was one of the worst places I have ever worked in my life. There was screaming. Intimidation. Nothing you ever did was right,” Nick Rodondo, Murphy’s former district director, told Pittsburgh radio station KDKA’s “Marty Griffin Show.”
Rodondo said the two of them were fond of each other — he said he saw them feed each other at events — but terrible to many others.
“Susan Mosychuk was no better than [Murphy]. She wrote that memo to cover her butt," he continued. "I know, Marty. I know what these people are like. To call them creeps is an affront to creeps.”
Prior to his resignation, POLITICO had begun seeking information from Murphy office’s about whether Mosychuk earned more in outside income than was allowed under House rules. For several years, she received payments from Murphy's congressional office as well as his campaign.
During 2008, Mosychuk was paid $231,500 — $156,500 for her official duties and $75,000 from the campaign, according to House disbursement records and her annual financial disclosure form. But permissible outside income for top aides that year was capped at $25,830, according to the House Ethics Committee.
In 2010, Mosychuk earned nearly $158,600 for her congressional duties and reported more than $47,000 in income from the campaign, according to her disclosure report. House rules capped such outside income at $26,550 that year.
Mosychuk, through a Murphy spokeswoman, said she took “leave without pay” from her official duties to do campaign work and was therefore allowed to earn more than the ethics threshold permits.
“Ms. Mosychuk’s salary and compensation is documented, reported and in full compliance with all the rules prescribed by the House Committee on Ethics,” Carly Atchison, Murphy’s communications director, said in a statement. “As a matter of public record, this includes both her congressional salary and compensation earned from the campaign while on [leave without pay] status in 2008 and 2010, fully documented and compliant with House rules.”
However, House disbursements records show Mosychuk was paid every quarter of that year and does not appear to have taken more than a few weeks off. The only time her pay dipped in 2008 was in the third quarter, when she earned about $7,000 less than her usual salary, a loss of roughly two weeks’ pay. Mosychuk was paid $75,000 from Murphy’s reelection campaign that year, far more than she could have normally earned during such a short period for political work.
In the third quarter of 2010, Mosychuk similarly made about $8,000 less than her usual quarterly earnings, though she earned $47,000 from the Murphy re-election committee. Again, this suggests Mosychuk was being paid an inordinate amount for political work covering a relatively brief time-frame.
Mosychuck did not respond to questions about her political work.
Ethics experts said that such a high campaign salary for what would have been a relatively short time on leave might violate the spirit, if not the letter, of House rules.
"There is a rule about outside income, and it is a serious matter to violate that rule," said Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel at Campaign Legal Center, a campaign watchdog group.
Murphy’s office did not respond to the allegations of Mosychuk’s alleged verbal abuse of former workers. Some said they’ve gone to therapy or that it took years to rebuild their self-confidence.
“I tried to forget all of it because it was so horrible,” said one former Murphy employee. “Screaming was an everyday thing. The manipulation and the mind games. … Everybody in that office was depressed.”
Another former staffer called it a “culture of intimidation” while a third said, “It took me a long time to have any confidence in myself.”
Murphy’s career started to unravel in early September, when he was forced to admit to an affair with Shannon Edwards, a Pittsburgh-area psychologist half his age. Edwards’ husband had sought to depose the congressman as part of their divorce proceedings. Murphy fought the deposition, which would expose the affair to his constituents, but lost in court.
On Tuesday, the scandal erupted when the Post-Gazette reported that Murphy had suggested Edwards get an abortion during a pregnancy scare, citing leaked text messages between the two.
“And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options," Edwards texted to Murphy in late January, according to the Post-Gazette.
Edwards was responding to a Facebook post by Murphy, touting his anti-abortion position in Congress. Murphy is a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and voted this week for legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks.
The story also highlighted a toxic work environment in Murphy’s office, pointing to Mosychuk’s memo, which she titled: “Office Conduct and Behavior: Harassment/Legal Compliance.” Mosychuk accused Murphy of causing 100 percent turnover in the office because of a “pattern of sustained inappropriate behavior.”
Mosychuk warned Murphy that his actions could be seen as “harassment” of staffers. She highlighted two June incidents in which Murphy was “storming around as we walked in, and as we sat down for prep — having just arrived literally moments ago — you started in on the [legislative director] and verbally abused him, harassed him, chastised him and criticized all his work products.”
“You called many of the work products that he literally gave up his weekend to produce as ‘useless,’” Mosychuk wrote in the memo. “You pushed other documents off the table onto the floor because they weren't what you wanted. Then you got angry and demanded we find the documents that you had just thrown on the ground.”
Several ex-employees who spoke with POLITICO, however, said that while Murphy was a tough boss, Mosychuk was the real reason they quit their jobs. They were flabbergasted that Mosychuk dressed down Murphy for conduct she regularly engaged in herself.
“The description in the memo is not what he does; it’s what she would do,” said one ex-staffer. “She was the one who would verbally abuse staff. He was bad, but you can deal with a tough member. She was literally terrorizing people.”
Murphy’s and Mosychuk’s treatment of staff has long been known on Capitol Hill. Senior Republican lawmakers and aides said they often sympathized with people who worked there after hearing horror stories.
One former staffer said another aide in the different Capitol office once insisted on doing something nice for her because "I know you work in Murphy's office and could use something good." That same staffer would later go on to encourage people coming into the Murphy office for interviews, or applying to work for the congressman, to turn around and run.
“I would say, ‘You don’t want to be here unless you’re going to be homeless tomorrow,'" she said.
Asked why they never reported these actions to the Office of Compliance, which oversees employment matters in Congress, two former staffers said they looked into the matter but were afraid it’d get back to Mosychuk and that she and Murphy would ruin their careers.
"It’s not like a private company where you have an HR department," said one former Murphy employee. "It was a culture of abuse and a culture of corruption. There really is no oversight."