Politics

Ethics Office: Meadows Likely in Violation of House Rules

Ethics Committee releases OCE report on congressman's payments to ex-staffer

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows is under scrutiny for payments made to his former chief of staff after he was no longer working full-time for the congressman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Mark Meadows was likely in violation of House rules and standards when he continued to pay a staff member his full-time salary after he was moved to a part-time advisory role, an Office of Congressional Ethics review released Wednesday by the House Ethics Committee found. 

“There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Meadows retained an employee who did not perform duties commensurate with the compensation the employee received, and certified that the compensation met applicable House standards, in violation of House rules and standards of conduct,” the OCE report reads.

The OCE is an independent body that reviews allegations of misconduct against House members and staff. In its reviews, the OCE decides whether to refer cases to the House Ethics Committee, which has the final decision-making authority to determine whether a member violated House rules.

The Ethics Committee is currently investigating the allegation that Meadows violated House rules by authorizing several months of compensation for his chief of staff after his full-time employment ended. The OCE unanimously voted in February to refer the matter to the committee.

However, Meadows had already reported the allegations to the Ethics Committee in November 2015, according to a letter his lawyer sent the panel on May 10, 2016.

The lawyer also defended Meadows’s actions, saying, “It was his belief that these severance payments were consistent with House Rules and practice.”

[Ethics Committee Takes up Inquiry into Meadows]

The committee announced in July that it was looking into the OCE’s referral of the congressman. Per its rules, the committee is required to release the OCE findings on a case within 45 days of announcing its decision to pursue an inquiry.

The inquiry looks into Meadow’s compensating his former Chief of Staff Kenny West after his employment in that position was terminated. Meadows kept West on staff as a senior adviser for a few months before he officially stopped working for the North Carolina Republican.

A group of employees in Meadows’ Washington office reported in October 2014 to the deputy chief of staff at the time that West had acted inappropriately toward them, the OCE said.

One Washington staff member interviewed by the OCE described a January 2015 conversation in which Meadows told his Washington staffers that he did not want anyone to feel uncomfortable and that he would “take care of it.”

Another Washington employee provided a similar story to the OCE about concerns she and other staff members raised about West in October 2014. She said the congressman asked South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy’s chief of staff to interview the female employees about their interactions with West and report back to him. Her belief, she told the OCE, was that Meadows wanted to assess the legal and personnel ramifications of West’s conduct.

A staff member from Meadow’s district office told the OCE that she reported uncomfortable interactions with West to the district director, also in October 2014. She said she received emails from Meadows acknowledging the information.

After the October 2014 reports about West’s inappropriate behavior, West did not return to the Capitol Hill office, the two Washington staffers told the OCE. One of the staffers reported “sporadic” contact between West and the office, however, indicating that he had not been fired.

The district staffer said West showed up in the North Carolina office the day after she reported her concerns and that an argument ensued when the office manager asked West to leave and never return. After that day, the district staffer said she never saw West in the office again.

Despite not being present in either office, West continued to perform some work through early 2015, the OCE found. The district staffer said Meadows emailed staff in the spring or early summer of 2015 that West was no longer employed by the office.

[Meadows Explains Effort to Overthrow Boehner]

The OCE cites an email from Meadows dated April 1, 2015, in which he announced staff changes and noted that he would be interviewing possible chief of staff replacements for West. “Kenny has been working with me on the reorganization plan,” Meadows wrote.

Meadows continued to authorize salary payments to West through August 15, 2015, the OCE said.

A Meadows spokesman told Roll Call in July — without naming West — that the congressman requested an internal investigation when the allegations were first raised “about the conduct of a then-staffer” and that he “took swift and appropriate action.”

Meadows “ultimately came to an agreement with the then-staffer that he would resign his full-time duties, but to ensure a smooth transition, would continue to perform some official duties until he left the office,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman’s statement is consistent with what Meadows' lawyer described in the letter to the Ethics Committee.

Meadows, West and several members of the congressman's staff declined to provide information to the OCE for its investigation. However, Meadow’s counsel did provide a copy of a November 18, 2015, letter he sent to the Ethics Committee.

[Congressman Takes Aim at Ethics Agency]

In the letter, Meadows said he changed West’s title and duties to full-time senior adviser on April 1, 2015. Toward the end of May 2015, Meadows said he and West came to agreement that he would resign his full-time duties but that he would continue to pay West for a short period to perform a few official duties in an effort to ensure a smooth transition.

“Kenny did continue to perform some services and was paid through August 2015,” Meadows wrote.

Meadows also said in the letter that the payments to West constituted “severance” pay. However, the OCE said “there are no records of any ‘lump sum’ or ‘severance’ request forms filed by Rep. Meadows for Kenny West except an October 30, 2013 bonus request for $1,000.”

West was paid about $58,000 between April 1 and August 15 of 2015, commensurate with his annual full-time salary of $155,000, the OCE said. The testimony and documents the OCE received in its investigation did not show that West performed any official work after April 1, 2015.

The OCE recommended that the Ethics Committee subpoena Meadows, West and the other staffers who declined to provide information for their investigation.

The Meadows spokesman said in July that the congressman has and will cooperate with the Ethics Committee investigation, but chose not to work with the OCE because the office wastes taxpayer money providing duplicative reviews of matters that are ultimately up to the committee to decide.

Rema Rahman contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.