The House Ethics Committee said today that it would continue reviewing whether Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) offered almost $3 million to settle a series of legal disputes with a former business partner in exchange for him filing a false affidavit with the Federal Election Commission.
The panel’s statement was accompanied by the release of an independent ethics office’s voluminous report detailing the allegations under review and the response it received from Buchanan.
“The Committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further referral, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee,” read the joint statement issued by Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.).
The joint release is required by a mandatory disclosure element in the Congressional ethics review process and will be the last time the committee is required to make a statement on the matter unless it convenes a formal investigative subcommittee.
The independent and bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics in September began examining whether Buchanan’s attorney had, with his knowledge, urged former business associate Sam Kazran to submit an affidavit to the FEC in October 2008 that falsely stated the Florida lawmaker and his representatives had until that point been unaware that Kazran’s car dealership employees were being reimbursed for their contributions to the Buchanan for Congress campaign.
If Kazran dropped all litigation against Buchanan and his affiliated business entities and submitted the affidavit, the letter from Buchanan’s attorney attached to the OCE report said, Kazran would receive $2.9 million from a company owned by Buchanan as a settlement and to retire any debts.
However, email and witness accounts cited in the OCE report confirm that Buchanan and his business associates had known at least some weeks before of a reimbursement scheme that dated back to 2005.
“This is the lst [sic] set of checks, there are more to follow, It gives me great regret to have done this for Vern when he doesn’t even hesitates [sic] for a second to sue me and my wife over 20k,” Kazran wrote in a Sept. 8, 2008, email to Buchanan’s assistant.
The copies of cancelled checks attached to the email totaled more than $80,000.
“Sam, Vern. Sorry I didn’t get your message, but, Sam, Mike Lindell told me the other day that you’re going to sue us or threatening to sue us. ... I think the threatening of political stuff and all that you got more liability than you know if you start telling people that you reimbursed people because technically you have the liability,” Buchanan said during a voicemail left for Kazran during the same time period.
The OCE report cited this as evidence.
“There is substantial reason to believe that Representative Buchanan knew on October 2, 2008, at the time that he made the settlement agreement contingent on the affidavit that: (1) Former Business Partner had information concerning the reimbursements prior to September 2008; and (2) paragraph 5 of the affidavit was false,” the OCE report said.
Though the OCE does not have the jurisdiction to review any alleged reimbursements that occurred before March 2008, when the office was established, the scheme itself was the focus of a multiyear FEC investigation that ended when it closed the file and said “no further action” would be taken. Kazran settled a separate FEC case related to the Buchanan campaign earlier this year by agreeing to repay a nominal amount.
The OCE’s inquiry centers on the submission of the affidavit in October 2008.
A Buchanan representative late Wednesday dismissed the report as “a disgrace” that relied on the testimony of a “thoroughly discredited witness.”
“There is absolutely nothing new in this report — every allegation was painstakingly reviewed and unequivocally rejected by the FEC,” Buchanan spokesman Max Goodman said in a statement.
Buchanan’s legal team had previously told the OCE that its findings were “fundamentally flawed” in a March letter that was also released on Wednesday.
“It misstates the evidence on which it is based, conceals exculpatory evidence, conceals the fact that the FEC found substantial grounds to doubt Kazran’s credibility and relies upon interpretation of documents that are at odds with their plain meaning, the conduct of all the parties, and the sworn statements of witnesses on which the report purports to rely,” the Patton Boggs attorneys wrote.
The OCE, in a rare public statement, countered that its review had been “thorough and professional” and that it took “great care to abide by the letter and spirit” of the rules.
“There was not a shred of exculpatory evidence that was not turned over to Rep. Buchanan’s attorneys. ... Our review was factual, fair and in keeping with the mission the House tasked us with — to assist the House in upholding the highest of ethical standards for Members and staff,” OCE spokeswoman Kelly Brewington said.
This is the committee’s second ongoing and open-ended review of allegations surrounding Buchanan, who was elected in 2006 and represents a district in the southwest part of Florida that includes Sarasota and most of Bradenton.
By the time the OCE voted unanimously in late January that there was “substantial reason to believe” that Buchanan had encouraged the submission of the false affidavit and referred the matter to the Ethics Committee, it was already considering whether he had failed to disclose positions on his financial disclosure forms.
In that case, the OCE’s 336-page report found that Buchanan had omitted 17 positions on forms filed for the calendar years 2007 to 2010.
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.