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Inhofe Fires Part-Timers Over Ethics Concerns

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Sen. James Inhofe says there is a clear separation between his staffer’s work in the Senator’s office and his position as a Christian missionary serving Africa.

Sen. James Inhofe last week terminated two part-time staffers after Roll Call raised questions about their employment, but the Oklahoma Republican continues to employ a part-time director of African affairs who earns the rest of his income as a missionary in the Africa division of the Assemblies of God church.

Inhofe said last week that he terminated the two Oklahoma-based staff members “to keep it clean” and ensure there are no conflicts. But he said he sees no conflict with his D.C.-based director of African affairs working on African issues for the Senate and a church group at the same time.

Inhofe has had the three men on his staff for years. In 2000, Charles Sublett came aboard as a legal assistant and Jerry Holmes joined the staff as a military adviser. Sublett is paid $5,000 a year and Holmes makes $9,500 a year, according to payroll records maintained by LegiStorm. Mark Powers joined the staff in 2001 and is now earning about $15,000 a year as director of African affairs.

According to Federal Election Commission records, Sublett has also donated $6,850 to Inhofe’s re-election campaigns since joining his staff, a violation of Senate rules prohibiting staff from donating to their bosses. The other two men are not contributors.

In an interview last week, Inhofe said he was unaware of the campaign donations until Roll Call brought it to his attention. “We will give back the contributions,” Inhofe said, and he is taking Holmes and Sublett off the payroll.

Inhofe said he and Sublett are both pilots, and they fly together to military bases in the state. “So he does that, more than the legal part,” the lawmaker said.

But Sublett is also “a real smart lawyer, and he has been helpful to me in that respect,” Inhofe added. Sublett will still fly with him, but no longer as a staff member, he said.

Similarly, Holmes is a retired Air Force major general who advises Inhofe on issues regarding Oklahoma military affairs. “When I am not in the state and something happens militarily, he will go there on behalf of me because he’s current on all those issues,” Inhofe said. Despite being removed from the payroll, Holmes “will continue to do it for me, but as a volunteer.”

Powers is a more complicated case.

Inhofe is ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, but his passion is for African development. A story in the Oklahoman newspaper in late 2008 quoted the Senator as describing his many trips to Africa as “a Jesus thing” and noted that his focus was fostered by the International Foundation, a faith-based group that is connected to the “C Street” townhouse where several Members of Congress live.

The House’s Office of Congressional Ethics recently dismissed allegations that the foundation was providing below-market rent to several Members at the Capitol Hill residence.

Inhofe has said that he was first persuaded in the late 1990s to become engaged in African issues by his friend Doug Coe, head of the International Foundation. The foundation is popularly known as “The Family,” the title of a book about the group by reporter and author Jeff Sharlet.

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