Fossella Inquiry Approved, Deferred

Posted May 21, 2008 at 6:36pm

The House ethics committee voted Wednesday to establish a subcommittee to investigate Rep. Vito Fossella’s (R) recent arrest in Alexandria, Va., for driving while intoxicated, but the panel did not indicate that its inquiry would extend to questions over whether the New York lawmaker misused government funds when traveling with his mistress on Congressional trips.

Additionally, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct opted to immediately suspend the probe pending the outcome of court proceedings in the drunken-driving charge.

“The Committee recommended that the investigative subcommittee defer action on its investigation until the proceedings involving Representative Fossella in Alexandria, Virginia have concluded,” the panel said in a statement.

Fossella, who announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of his current term, is scheduled to appear in court June 27.

Whether the subcommittee’s investigation could also encompass allegations that Fossella misused government funds to go on Congressional trips with his mistress, former Air Force officer Laura Fay, remains to be seen. In the wake of his May 1 arrest, Fossella acknowledged the extramarital affair and that he fathered a daughter with Fay.

Earlier this week, one Congressional watchdog organization called on the ethics panel to include those activities in any potential investigation.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), during a meeting with reporters Wednesday, reiterated his call for the ethics committee to do its job when asked specifically about whether the panel should investigate Fossella’s travels.

“I’ve pushed them to do their job. They ought to do it in this case as well,” Boehner said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) declined to specifically address “the Fossella matter” at a Tuesday press conference, but he similarly called on the ethics panel to enforce the House rules.

“I believe that the ethics committee … has a responsibility at any time that it knows of conduct which may be in violation of the rules or affect adversely on the institution has a responsibility to take those matters under consideration,” Hoyer said. “So certainly that would fall within that context.”

Under a resolution approved last June, whenever a Member is “indicted or otherwise informally charged with criminal conduct” a 30-day clock starts in which the ethics panel is required to either impanel an investigative subcommittee or issue a report detailing its decision not to do so.

Fossella’s arrest made him the fourth House lawmaker to trigger action by the ethics panel, along with Reps. William Jefferson (D-La.), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and Bob Filner (D-Calif.).

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) will serve as chairman of the investigative subcommittee, and Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) will serve as the ranking member. The other two Members on the subcommittee are Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah).