Hastert, Pelosi Select ‘Ethics Pool’

Posted March 19, 2004 at 5:33pm

Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the chairman and ranking member of the House ethics committee, are expected this week to name the lawmakers who will run the investigation into alleged attempts to improperly pressure Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) during a controversial Nov. 22 vote on Medicare.

On Thursday, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) each formally announced 10 Members to become part of an “ethics pool” that Hefley and Mollohan can draw on in setting up the four-person investigative subcommittee charged with overseeing the Smith investigation.

Under ethics committee precedent, the chairman and ranking member of the investigative subcommittee, which can issue subpoenas and hear testimony under oath, will come from the full Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

The third and fourth members of the investigative subcommittee can be selected from either the full committee or the ethics pool.

Hastert’s choices for the ethics pool include GOP Reps. Kevin Brady (Texas), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.), John Doolittle (Calif.), Phil English (Pa.), Sam Johnson (Texas), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Denny Rehberg (Mont.), John Shadegg (Ariz.), Mike Simpson (Idaho) and Lee Terry (Neb.).

Pelosi’s nominations are Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Bill Delahunt (Mass.), Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Mike McNulty (N.Y.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), Bobby Scott (Va.), Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Ellen Tauscher (Calif.).

Scott actually served on the investigative subcommittee that oversaw the case of then-Rep. Jay Kim (R-Calif.), who was convicted in mid-1997 on misdemeanor charges of illegally raising more than $237,000 during a campaign five years earlier.

Kim’s loss in the 1998 GOP primary ended the ethics probe, but the investigative subcommittee report detailed campaign violations beyond those he pleaded guilty to.

Other Members named to the ethics pool have extensive legal and even prosecutorial experience.

For instance, Diaz-Balart was an assistant prosecutor in Dade County under former Attorney General Janet Reno before both came to Washington, while Schiff spent six years with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and helped prosecute the first FBI agent ever to be indicted for espionage, Richard Miller.

Becerra is a former California deputy attorney general. Delahunt, who has been very vocal in his criticism of the GOP handling of the Medicare bill, served as a county district attorney for 22 years.

Whoever is chosen to lead the Smith probe will have to untangle a confusing web of statements from the Michigan Republican and other lawmakers who were present during the historic Nov. 22 vote.

With Hastert, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and other top Republicans prowling the floor, Smith stuck to his “no” vote on the Medicare prescription drug package, despite intense lobbying from the Speaker himself and other GOP lawmakers. The bill passed without Smith’s support after a three-hour drama.

The day after the vote, Smith used his official Congressional Web site to post a statement claiming that unnamed GOP leaders offered “bribes and special deals” to rank-and-file Republicans to get their support for the Medicare bill, a top priority for President Bush and the party.

Smith repeated the bribery claim over the next 10 days. The retiring lawmaker told a Michigan radio station that he was offered $100,000 in campaign contributions from business interests for his son Bradley Smith (R), who is seeking the seat his father is vacating.

Smith, who now declines to comment on the issue, later modified his position on the whole matter, saying he was offered “significant financial support” for his son if he backed the bill.

Smith has steadfastly refused to name who made the alleged offers, and Members who were around him at the time deny that they ever heard any such exchanges.

House Democrats and government watchdog groups pressed for months for an investigation of Smith’s claims, and the ethics committee opened an “informal fact-finding” into the case in early December. The panel did not formally announce that it had done so for two months and only after Hefley and Mollohan came under intense public pressure to act.

The FBI had also begun looking into the allegations, although it’s unclear how far that probe would go since the alleged violations occurred on the House floor, presenting separation-of-powers concerns.

Last Wednesday, the full committee voted to appoint an investigative subcommittee to explore the matter further, setting the stage for this week’s expected appointments.