Updated: 8:55 p.m. | The House Ethics Committee did its due diligence Monday evening.
Per its rules, the panel has formally convened an "investigative subcommittee" to probe possible misconduct by Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., who was slapped last week with a 29-count federal indictment for alleged conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud. For political observers unfamiliar with the congressional ethics process, an investigative subcommittee would seem like a significant development in the House's response to the 11-term lawmaker who has said he's innocent and running for re-election .
But don't expect action from the committee anytime soon. In keeping with precedent, it is highly unlikely the investigative subcommittee will do anything until the criminal process runs its course, whatever that may entail. It will also almost certainly drop its involvement in the matter should Fattah leave Congress before the conclusion of the matter.
The Ethics Committee could end up getting directly involved if Fattah is found guilty and chooses not to resign from office between the rendering of the verdict and the date of his sentencing. There is precedent for this in the case of the late Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., who was in April 2002 charged with multiple counts of corruption, chose to stay in the House and was ultimately expelled .
In that event, membership of the investigative subcommittee could become significant. The appointed subcommittee chairwoman is Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind., while the ranking member is Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y. Clarke is the first vice chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Fattah is a senior member. Until last week, Fattah was the chairman of the board of directors of the CBC Foundation, but he stepped down following the indictment (he also gave up his ranking membership on the appropriations subcommittee overseeing criminal justice and science spending).
Some CBC members have in the past expressed concern about the ethics process and wondered whether there was a bias toward black lawmakers, who appeared to be bearing the brunt of scrutiny both from the committee and the quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics. It could create an uncomfortable dynamic between Clarke and her CBC colleagues, many of whom have said they'll stand by Fattah during his difficult period.
Rounding out the four-member investigative subcommittee are Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., a freshmen, and Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif. Should the subcommittee need to be reconstituted for the 115th Congress, Hahn will need a replacement, as she is leaving at the end of 2016 in hopes of winning a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Fattah said Monday night he was prepared to be a willing participant in the panel's inquiry.
"I will fully cooperate in any and every way to aid the Committee's investigation," the lawmaker said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call. "I have nothing to hide and have never participated in any actions or activities to dishonor the House throughout my 20-plus years of service."