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Hoyer Defends Ethics Panel in Wake of Staff Suspensions

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) expressed confidence Wednesday in the chamber’s ethics committee, even as the panel suspended two of its attorneys.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct suspended Deputy Chief Counsel Morgan Kim and attorney Stacey Sovereign. A spokesman for the committee declined to confirm or deny any employment actions, first reported late Tuesday by Politico.

Hoyer said Wednesday that he had confidence in the ethics committee but that the move to suspend the committee staffers “raises concerns that ought to be looked at.”

“The question is, the committee is not the staff. The committee on official conduct is the five Democrats and five Republicans who I think have worked very hard to try to come to grips with very difficult situations,” Hoyer said.

Ethics subcommittees charged two senior Democrats with rules violations this year, and the full ethics panel recommended censuring Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). The House is set to vote on that punishment Thursday.

Neither Kim nor Sovereign responded to requests for comment by Wednesday. The ethics panel continued to list both attorneys on its staff website on Wednesday.

Both House aides were reportedly suspended Nov. 19, the same day the ethics committee announced it would postpone an ethics trial on allegations involving Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Sources knowledgeable with that investigation said both Kim and Sovereign actively worked on the case.

An ethics subcommittee charged Waters in August with violating the chamber’s rules over allegations that her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, tried to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock. Waters has denied wrongdoing in the case.

Kim became the ethics panel’s deputy chief counsel in July 2009, the second time she has worked for the committee. She previously served as an ethics counsel between 2006 and 2008. She worked for the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General between terms on the ethics panel.

According to House pay records maintained by LegiStorm, Sovereign joined the committee in December 2009.

Hoyer said Wednesday he had not yet decided whether he would support censuring Rangel, who has launched a public campaign to reduce his punishment to a reprimand, which would still require a House vote but circumvent a public lecture on the chamber’s floor.

“I’m going to wait to hear the report of the committee and the debate on the floor before I make a conclusion about the appropriateness of the recommended penalty,” Hoyer said Wednesday.

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