Veteran Ethics Aide Heads to Firm

Posted June 16, 2008 at 6:29pm

Longtime Congressional staffer Rob Walker has moved from the Senate Ethics Committee to the Wiley Rein law firm.

Walker spent nearly 10 years in Congress, working as chief counsel and staff director of both the Senate and House ethics committees. Before that, he worked as a federal prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and as a district attorney. He left the Hill earlier this month.

For high-ranking staffers who become lobbyists, there is a one-year “cooling off” period before they can lobby the Hill. Although Senate rules do not explicitly prohibit Walker from immediately acting as counsel for lawmakers, lobbyists or others with business before the ethics committee, Walker has interpreted the federal criminal statute governing post-employment practices as such. According to Walker, because the statute includes language barring communication with the offices or Members of the Senate “with the intent to influence” within a year, acting as a representative of any kind before a Senate committee or office is off-limits for one year.

Those rules do not apply to the House and allow Walker to act as an adviser to lawmakers, lobbying shops and others.

Additionally, a confidentiality agreement that Walker signed with the committee bars him from disclosing information about specific cases that came before the committee. “Everyone who goes to work for the Senate committee signs a confidentiality agreement” as a way to ensure the privacy of lawmakers, staff, lobbyists and others who have dealings before the committee, Walker said.

But the rules do allow Walker to discuss committee precedents and guidance with clients so long as he is careful to avoid disclosing information that might identify those involved. Additionally, Walker will be able to use his knowledge of the mechanics of the committee when advising clients.

Ethics attorneys and watchdogs argue it is that institutional knowledge that makes Walker a valuable addition to Wiley Rein — and which highlights pitfalls of the committee’s secrecy. “I don’t think anyone can understand how the House or Senate committees work without working for them … [and] I can’t think of anyone with that level of expertise,” said Jan Baran, a partner at Wiley Rein.

Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the government watchdog group Sunlight Foundation, agreed with Baran, saying Walker’s move into the private sector highlights the problems with the ethics committees’ strict secrecy. According to Allison, because neither committee operates in a transparent way, Walker will be able to provide clients with a much sought-after understanding of the committees’ internal workings, information “which is something that reporters desperately want and the public desperately wants.”

The media, watchdogs and firms representing lawmakers and others before the committees have chafed over the secrecy. “Ethics committee staff are like vestal virgins or something,” Allison said. “Unlike most Congressional staffers who will share some information with you … they’re really barred from saying anything.”