The House Ethics Committee announced today that it will continue investigating whether Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) misused campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, but it will do so without forming a formal investigative subcommittee.
In April, the committee began reviewing whether Andrews used money from his Congressional campaign and a leadership PAC to pay for a family trip to Scotland, to fly his daughter to Los Angeles because of her interest in the entertainment business and to pay for her high school graduation party. The case started in the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which voted in March to send the matter to the House Ethics Committee for further review.
The committee's decision to continue reviewing the case informally was accompanied by a 244-page report and exhibits that detail the office's findings. The release was triggered by a mandatory disclosure provision in the ethics review process that gives the committee 90 days in most cases to either empanel an investigative subcommittee or release the office's findings.
"The Committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgement on behalf of the Committee," Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement.
Andrews said in a statement that he is confident the committee will eventually exonerate him of wrongdoing.
"As the Ethics Committee stated today, it has reached no conclusion on this matter. As the Committee continues its review, the record will show that I have followed all rules and met all standards of the House," the statement read.
The bulk of the OCE report focuses on a trip that Andrews took with his wife and two daughters to attend a wedding in Edinburgh, Scotland, followed by a visit to London.
The wedding involved an individual whom Andrews met while working on a presidential campaign in 2003. Several years later, the individual "informally advised" Andrews on topics such as "electoral strategy, communications strategy and opposition research" but spent no more than 50 hours doing so in a three to four month period. In the years since, the two have communicated a "couple dozen" times and their interactions were personal in nature, according to the OCE report.
Even though the two had not interacted professionally in any capacity for several years, the Andrews for Congress or the Committee to Strengthen America campaign accounts either directly paid for or were later used to reimburse the cost of four business class tickets that totaled $16,574.88, a hotel bill of $7,725.66 at the five-star luxury resort The Balmoral, a $462.98 wedding gift and $2,610 in "petty cash" for on-the-ground expenses in the United Kingdom.
The Andrews family repaid the two campaign accounts for the expenses after reports of the trip surfaced in the media.
Andrews told OCE interviewers that he believed the trip to be a bona fide campaign expense because the individual getting married was part of a group of people that he "tried to cultivate" relationships with who might be of professional benefit in the future.
"My thought was that, you know, enriching and broadening this relationship would make him more likely to help me in the future if I asked him, or help the leadership PAC if I asked him," Andrews said during an OCE interview.
The OCE report also describes a party held at the Andrews residence last summer to celebrate both his campaign and his daughter's high school graduation. Some of the costs for the event were billed to the Andrews for Congress campaign.
Andrews also took at least six trips to Los Angeles last year with his daughter, which were covered by his campaign account and the leadership PAC. Though his daughter told a witness she was there to do "some music recording," Andrews said she was there because she was "old enough to be helpful with some of the things that campaign volunteers usually do."
Along with the statement released today, Andrews provided reporters with a legal summary of his defense. It emphasizes that the money in question was from political campaign accounts and not taxpayer funds, that the case originated based on allegations made by political adversaries and that candidates' families often attend campaign-related events. Even so, Andrews made the "political judgment" to return funds used for the wedding to avoid even the perception of wrongdoing, the background information said.
The committee's review of the case will continue as a Rule 18(a) investigation, a preliminary stage of inquiry that allows it to gather information until a formal investigative subcommittee has been formed. It is the final time the committee will likely comment on the matter unless it empanels a subcommittee or dismisses the case.
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.