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House Ethics Committee Briefly Opens Its Doors

Dent wielded the Ethics gavel for the first time during the Feb. 12 meeting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)ics

The public got a rare glimpse inside the House Ethics Committee on Thursday morning, when the secretive panel convened to determine its rules and oversight plan for the 114th Congress. Though the GOP added some stiff new language to its rules package governing the Ethics Committee, the panel made no substantive changes to its own rules.  

Why not? Lawyers for the committee determined that language stating the panel “may not take any action that would deny any person any right or protection provided under the Constitution of the United States," inserted at the request of New Mexico Republican Steve Pearce, did not require any update to the rules.  

Another new subsection in the House rules package reaffirmed that a person subject to a review by Ethics investigators has a right to be represented by counsel and establishes that invoking such a right is not to be held as a presumption of guilt. The right to counsel, at the subject of the investigation's expense, is clearly stated in Ethics panel's existing rules.  

Former staff director Daniel Schwager, appointed to the sensitive post  May 2011, after two years as a lawyer for the Senate Ethics Committee, was among the people who packed the Longworth boardroom during the brief open session.  

Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa., welcomed Schwager, who departed in late 2013 after a successful, low-controversy tenure. Within 5 minutes, the committee adopted rules and an oversight plan, then moved to return to closed-door executive session.  

"Was it as exciting for you as it was for us?" ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., joked as the reporters and observers filed out of the room.  

Related: Pearce Pushed House Rule Change to Provide ‘Protection’ in Ethics Cases House Mandates 1 Hour of Ethics Training for Freshman Class The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

Topics: ethics