Ethics Panel Investigates Waters, Graves and Jackson

Updated: 12:05 p.m.The House ethics committee revealed Wednesday it is investigating allegations involving three lawmakers in unrelated incidents.The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics panel, issued separate statements Wednesday identifying inquiries into Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.).A statement issued by the ethics committee said each of the investigations is ongoing, but the panel will defer its efforts in Jackson’s case in light of an ongoing Justice Department inquiry.Each of the investigations was referred to the ethics committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics, although the ethics panel noted in its statement that it had previously begun its own investigation into Jackson.Although the committee did not detail what allegations it is investigating with regard to Graves, the Missouri lawmaker issued a statement Wednesday referring to allegations about testimony before the Small Business Committee.In March, Roll Call reported that the Congressman invited his friend and neighbor Brooks Hurst to testify before a Congressional hearing on renewable fuels, without mentioning that his wife and Hurst are investors together in renewable fuels plants in Missouri.“I look forward to a quick review of the facts and answering any questions that the Committee may have,— Graves said in the statement issued Wednesday. “I believe that a speedy review will show that all the rules of the House concerning testimony in front of the Small Business Committee were followed.—Graves is the ranking member on the Small Business Committee, which held the March 4 hearing on “The State of the Renewable Fuels Industry in the Current Economy.—At that hearing, Graves introduced Hurst as a farmer from northwest Missouri and added that Hurst’s family “is very active in biodiesel and ethanol production.—Hurst added, “I’m also a member and investor in a small ethanol plant in the town of Craig.—The only ethanol plant in Craig, Mo., is the Golden Triangle Energy Cooperative.Graves’ financial disclosure forms indicate that his wife’s investment in Golden Triangle produced $15,001 to $50,000 in income in 2006 and $5,000 to $15,000 in 2007 and 2008. That investment was originally listed on Graves’ disclosure forms as being a joint asset that he shared with his wife.Hurst told Roll Call in 2007 that in 2005 he also recruited “the Graves family— to become original investors with him in a biodiesel plant in Mexico, Mo. In 2007, that investment earned Lesley Graves $1,000 to $2,500 in income, but only $200 to $1000 in 2008, according to Graves’ disclosure forms.According to the committee’s statement, dated Sept. 15, the ethics committee received a recommendation from the OCE to investigate Graves, despite the fact that OCE had found no evidence that Graves had broken any rules.The OCE is the quasi-independent body created by the House in early 2008 to review and recommend probes of possible ethics violations to the committee.The OCE employs a two-stage review process before determining whether to recommend an investigation to the full committee.Once the OCE submits a recommendation for review to the ethics panel, the committee has 45 days before it must publicize the OCE’s report and recommendations. The committee may extend that period by an additional 45 days — and voted Tuesday to do so in both the Waters and Graves investigations — but it must make that decision public, as it did Wednesday.At the end of the new 45-day period, the committee must release the reports in each case, unless it opts to establish an investigative subcommittee to further review the alleged violations.In its statement, the ethics committee said it opted to extend the 45-day period for the Graves inquiry, citing potential “exculpatory evidence— — information that could potentially clear Graves of the allegations — which the panel said should be provided to Graves for review.“The Committee has identified materials in the Office of Congressional Ethics’ report and findings that may contain exculpatory evidence, which OCE never provided to Representative Graves,— the statement said. “The Committee has voted unanimously to extend this matter to provide Representative Graves with potentially exculpatory materials, which the Committee understands, in the interest of justice, should have been provided to Representative Graves pursuant to Office of Congressional Ethics Rule[s].—The ethics panel also noted that although OCE recommended the review, it “did not find a ‘substantial reason to believe’ that there was a substantive violation of any provision of the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other standard of conduct.—The ethics committee did not indicate what allegations it is examining involving Waters, but a series of news reports earlier this year questioned the California lawmaker’s role in the decision to provide $12 million in federal bailout funds to OneUnited Bank, where her husband, Sidney Williams, had served on the board and owned a minimum of $500,000 in stock in 2007.Waters’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but earlier this year denied any wrongdoing in advocating on behalf of “minority and community banks,— in a statement to the Associated Press.As reported in March by the Los Angeles Times, the California lawmaker, a senior member of the Financial Services Committee, arranged a September 2008 meeting between OneUnited Bank’s chief executive, other financial institutions and Treasury Department officials.The newspaper quoted a former Treasury official who attended the meeting as saying that it was intended to focus broadly on problems facing minority-owned banks, but instead focused primarily on OneUnited Bank.“I had no influence on what Bush administration officials in the Treasury Department or other departments did,— Waters said in the March statement.In addition, the ethics committee said it will suspend its investigation of Jackson in deference to an ongoing Justice Department inquiry.“The Department of Justice has asked the Committee to defer consideration of this matter and the Committee, following precedent, unanimously voted to defer consideration of the matter at this time,— the statement said. “The Committee will continue to monitor the situation and will consider pursuing avenues of inquiry that concludes do no interfere with the activities of the Department of Justice.—Jackson acknowledged in April that OCE investigators were reviewing his ties to disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is accused by federal investigators of choreographing a pay-to-play scheme to auction an open Illinois Senate seat in late 2008.The Illinois lawmaker is identified in the Justice Department’s investigation of Blagojevich only as “Senate Candidate Number Five,— one of several individuals seeking the Senate seat vacated by now-President Barack Obama.In December 2008, Jackson also said that he had been contacted by the U.S. attorney’s office.The House ethics committee’s investigation, however, had not been previously disclosed.In its statement Wednesday, the committee revealed it has been reviewing “whether Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., or an agent of Representative Jackson, may have offered to raise funds for then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in return for the appointment of Representative Jackson to the Illinois Senate seat.—Jackson, who has denied wrongdoing in the case, hired Chicago-based attorney James Montgomery in December. Federal Election Commission reports show Jackson has paid at least $115,000 in legal fees through July, the most recent information available.Jackson’s office declined to comment on the ethics committee statement Wednesday.According to OCE rules, in the event the ethics committee defers a review recommended by the OCE because of an ongoing Justice Department or other law enforcement investigation, the panel must release the OCE’s report but not the results of the investigation.The ethics committee released the one-page report Wednesday, indicating the six-member OCE voted unanimously in July to recommend the ethics panel investigate the allegations involving Jackson.In addition to those contentions involving fundraising, the OCE report also indicates its review examined whether Jackson used his taxpayer-funded office budget, known as a Members’ Representational Allowance, to promote his interest in the Senate seat.“In the course of conducting this review, the OCE learned that staff resources of the Representative’s Washington, DC and Chicago, Illinois, offices were used to mount ‘public campaign’ to secure the Representative’s appointment to the U.S. Senate. In doing so, Representative Jackson may have violated federal law and House rules concerning the proper use of the Member’s Representational Allowance,— the OCE report states.The Jackson report is the first such OCE document to be released since the office’s creation in 2008.

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