The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating Rep. Jean Schmidt’s receipt of legal assistance from a Turkish-American interest group that has represented her in a host of proceedings in Ohio, one of the Republican’s counsels confirmed Friday.
Schmidt attorney Bruce Fein declined to answer questions about how he is paid, saying he is responding to a request from the OCE, the board that reviews potential rules violations and recommends investigations to the House Ethics Committee.
“We’ll be making proper responses to an outstanding inquiry,” said Fein, an attorney with the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and a resident scholar at the Turkish Coalition of America.
Fein did not detail the inquiry, and the OCE does not comment publicly on its work or confirm whether it is reviewing specific matters.
But Democrat David Krikorian, who has twice sought to challenge Schmidt for the 2nd district seat, has filed multiple complaints to the OCE, alleging that the Ohio lawmaker improperly received free legal services from the TCA and its legal defense fund in violation of House rules. It is not known whether the OCE investigation stems from Krikorian’s complaints.
In a statement Monday, Schmidt spokesman Brian Pfaff acknowledged the Ohio lawmaker had not received a bill from TALDF for its work to date but said Schmidt had followed House rules.
“We have been working with the Committee on Standards since the outset of this legal action to make sure we are acting in full compliance with House rules,” Pfaff said. The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct was renamed the Ethics Committee this year.
Schmidt’s office dismissed similar allegations in July, when Krikorian filed his first complaint with the OCE. At that time, Schmidt’s office said the lawmaker had received written advice from the Ethics Committee on her legal arrangement, although the office declined to provide a copy of the letter.
Schmidt also asked the Ethics Committee in July for permission to establish a legal expense fund, which would allow her to receive donations to pay her legal bills.
But public records maintained by the Clerk of the House showed no indication that such an account exists, and Pfaff said last week that it has yet to be approved by the Ethics Committee.
“The committee is aware that the Congresswoman is represented by TALDF and that we will not be billed until a legal expense trust is formally approved and established. At that time, we will receive a bill for all appropriate legal fees and services connected with these cases,” Pfaff said Monday. “As I’m sure you are aware, the Committee does not typically explain its process. We have been assured that we have answered all of the committee’s questions and provided all necessary information and await approval of the trust.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.