The House Ethics Committee announced on Tuesday it will continue to investigate whether Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., used his position in Congress to help certain companies in which he held significant financial interest.
But that's the last the public will likely hear of the investigation.
Petri is retiring at the end of the 113th Congress, at which time the committee's purview to probe his alleged misconduct will expire. And with Congress in recess until after the midterm elections, members of the panel have little time to act before the 17-term lawmaker's last day on Capitol Hill. That reality will inevitably draw ire from congressional watchdog groups that call the House ethics process deeply flawed, with the bipartisan group of lawmakers who sit on the committee actively unwilling to police their own.
That could especially be true now that the 38-page report from the quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics has been released, one which describes in stark detail all the evidence to suggest that Petri knowingly, and repeatedly, violated House rules to help himself.
The OCE report acknowledged that Petri did seek advice and input from the House Ethics Committee as he sought to advocate for two companies in particular in which he held stock — The Oshkosh Corporation and the Manitowoc Company — which has been Petri's defense all along.
Petri also requested that the Ethics Committee investigate charges against him that were first covered in the press, though the OCE was simultaneously taking stock of the situation.
"In every instance, Representative Petri has made a good faith effort to comply fully with both the letter and spirit of the rules and the guidance his staff received," wrote Petri's attorneys in a rebuttal to the Ethics Committee, which was also made public on Tuesday. "Because he consistently complied with House Rules, based on specific advice obtained from this Committee, we respectfully ask that you expedite review and dismiss this matter."
However, the report also found substantial evidence that Petri was inconsistent in his communications with the committee and in many cases did not follow the clear guidance he received. The OCE report described as well a number of scenarios where Petri and his staff did not make certain disclosures that would have been necessary.
Petri's lawyers at Covington & Burling LLP argued that both Oshkosh and Manitowoc are located in the congressman's district and therefore represent constituent concerns above personal financial interest.
"There is no dispute that Mr. Petri took official acts on behalf of constituents that are among the largest employers in his district," the lawyers wrote. "Nor is their any dispute that his support for both companies began years before he invested in them -- decades before, in the case of Oshkosh."
The accusations against Petri, however, come in the context of his investment success. He was ranked the 25th richest member of Congress with a minimum net worth of more than $15 million in Roll Call's annual ranking of congressional wealth.
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