The Justice Department opened an investigation into privately sponsored Caribbean trips that the House ethics committee ruled earlier this year had violated the chamber’s rules, according to documents the panel released Tuesday.
The revelation is included among documents the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct published Tuesday as the House considers whether to censure Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) for his wrongdoing in a series of unrelated incidents.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have for several years taken an annual Caribbean trip sponsored by the New York-based Carib News Foundation.
The ethics committee ruled in February that the 2007 and 2008 trips sponsored by the foundation were actually paid for by private companies and violated House rules on corporate-funded travel.
According to a Sept. 7 letter from ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), Rangel’s defense attorney had inquired about using campaign funds to pay legal bills connected to a Justice Department investigation of the trips.
The letter states that in August, attorney Phu Huynh from the firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair, asked whether Rangel could pay for “certain legal expenses” for himself, as well as “current and former members of his personal staff and Ways and Means Committee staff in connection with an investigation by the Department of Justice of privately-sponsored officially-connected travel by Members of Congress, including Representative Rangel, to two conferences hosted by Carib News/Carib News Foundation during 2007 and 2008.”
Correspondence from Huynh was not released by the ethics committee.
The ethics committee in February exonerated five of the six Members of wrongdoing — Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) — but it admonished Rangel, citing his staff’s knowledge that the trips were funded by corporations. The Members were required to repay the costs of the trips.
At that time, the ethics committee also announced that it referred information related to Carib News Foundation employees Karl Rodney, Patricia Lewis and Faye Rodney to the Justice Department for further review. The committee asserted that the trio submitted “false or misleading information to the Committee during its pre-travel review of the 2007 and 2008 conferences and again when providing sworn testimony to the Investigative Subcommittee.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation of the Caribbean trips.
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.