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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.

Within a few weeks of his hiring, Powers joined the Senator on a trip to Africa. The Senate Armed Services Committee reported that the government spent a little more than $12,000 for the two men on that trip.

The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World both reported shortly before that trip that Inhofe was planning to join a Congressional delegation to Africa being led by then-Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and that the Senator intended to do missionary work on the side. The Tulsa World reported that Inhofe “hopes to join up with the House delegation for some of the official visits, but he also plans to use the trip for what his office described as private religious missionary work.”

Senate reports do not detail specific travel dates, but Watts and five other House Members were in Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and Morocco from April 6 to 11, 2001. Inhofe and Powers went to Benin and Cote d’Ivoire, apparently by themselves. No other Senate Armed Services Committee members traveled to West Africa between April and September 2001.

But Inhofe said all of his travel in Africa has been official business, even though he frequently engages in prayer and conversations about faith with the African leaders.

“If you are wanting to develop a relationship where you can get things done, you would do it with taking people to dinner or a variety of different things,” Inhofe said. “I pray with them, and we’ve become real close. I’ve never gone and talked to groups and recruit people and praise the Lord and all that kind of thing.”

Because of the dozens of trips that he has made and the close personal relationships that he has built, Inhofe said, he has been able to achieve a long list of accomplishments in Africa, including helping the U.S. military establish a unified command for its African operations.

Senate rules prohibit Members or staff from accepting outside employment that constitutes a conflict of interest and prohibits Senate offices from using outside funds to subsidize an official expense, but Inhofe’s office said the arrangement with Powers violates neither of these standards.

“There is a very clear line of separation between what Mark Powers does in his official capacity as a Senate employee and what he does in his private work,” Inhofe spokesman Jared Young said in an e-mail. “As a part-time employee working for Senator Inhofe, he drafts constituent mail pieces and advises on legislation ... that deals with Africa. He meets with visiting African dignitaries and officials, and engages with Ambassadors from Africa. He also provides his knowledge and expertise of the continent when he travels with Senator Inhofe.

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