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In two investigations — the Caribbean travel and PMA probes — the Ethics Committee stated that it initiated its own investigations prior to the OCE’s recommendation to review those matters.
Individuals familiar with the ethics process said the panel’s increased workload is due, at least in part, to the OCE. The quasi-independent office began referring matters to the Ethics panel in 2009 and claims to have referred 38 matters to the Ethics Committee as of September, suggesting further review of 21 matters and dismissal of 17.
“Certainly it’s one of the clearest correlations between the work the Office of Congressional Ethics has done and the work the Ethics Committee has done,” said Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.
Defense attorney Stan Brand, a former House general counsel who often represents Members in dealings with the committee, also cited the OCE, but he noted, “These things come in waves; they ebb and flow.”
Ten cases that the Ethics panel reviewed were spurred by a House resolution that requires the Ethics Committee to impanel an investigative subcommittee or issue a report detailing its decision not to do so anytime a Member or House employee is indicted or otherwise charged with criminal conduct.
The Ethics Committee did not open investigative subcommittees into any of those matters, which included seven Members and four aides, including ex-Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio), who was charged with driving with an expired license in 2009, and several Members who were charged for their involvement in protest activities.
Among the inquiries that remained incomplete at the close of the 111th Congress were two subcommittees examining unrelated allegations into Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).
Waters had been scheduled to face an ethics trial in November over allegations that her chief of staff tried to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock. But the committee postponed that hearing indefinitely after it announced it had uncovered new evidence in the case in mid-November.
Massa resigned from the House in March in the wake of accusations that he sexually harassed several of his aides. An Ethics subcommittee was assigned to review related issues, including when House Democratic leaders learned of the accusations and how they responded.
The committee also voted in November to continue to delay its investigation into the ties between Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), citing the Justice Department’s ongoing prosecution of the former governor’s scheme to auction an open Senate seat.