House Ethics Overseers Tangle Over Graves Inquiry

Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:46pm

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the Office of Congressional Ethics asserted the House ethics panel “mischaracterized— a report on an investigation of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) — stating investigators did in fact find “substantial reason— to believe Graves may have committed a “substantive violation— — and decried allegations that the OCE had violated its own rules regarding evidence in the inquiry.

“We regret that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (SOOC) mischaracterized the Office of Congressional Ethics’ (OCE) August 6th referral of the matter involving Representative Sam Graves,— Chairman David Skaggs and Co-Chairman Porter Goss, both of whom are former Members of Congress, said in a statement.

“The OCE Board did find substantial reason to believe that a substantive violation may have occurred,— the statement continued. “While the SOOC released a portion of the OCE referral, the complete disclosure as provided for in [House rules] will clearly demonstrate as much.—

The statement came in response to an announcement earlier in the day by the House ethics committee, revealing that it is reviewing allegations about Graves.

In that same announcement, the ethics committee criticized the OCE for recommending the investigation, asserting that the OCE’s own inquiry had found no evidence that Graves had broken any rules.

The ethics committee statement said the OCE “did not find a ‘substantial reason to believe’ that there was a substantive violation of any provision of the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other standard of conduct.—

OCE officials also rebutted ethics committee allegations that the OCE failed to provide potentially “exculpatory evidence— — information that could potentially clear Graves of the allegations — to the Missouri lawmaker during its own investigation.

“The information the SOOC suggests ‘may’ be exculpatory was either in Representative Graves’ possession directly or through his counsel, or was not pertinent,— the officials stated. “We respectfully note that documents in the referral to the SOOC make this clear. The OCE would never withhold exculpatory information from a subject of an investigation and did not in this instance.—

The OCE is the quasi-independent body created by the House in early 2008 to review and recommend probes of possible ethics violations to the committee.

The OCE employs a two-stage review process before determining whether to recommend an investigation to the full committee.

Once the OCE submits a recommendation for review to the ethics panel, the committee has 45 days before it must publicize the OCE’s report and recommendations.

The committee may extend that period by an additional 45 days — and voted Tuesday to do so in the Graves investigation — but it must make that decision public, as it did Wednesday.

At the end of the new 45-day period, the committee must release the reports in each case, unless it opts to establish an investigative subcommittee to further review the alleged violations.

Although the committee did not detail what allegations it is investigating with regard to Graves, the Missouri lawmaker issued a statement Wednesday referring to allegations about testimony before the House Small Business Committee.

In March, Roll Call reported that the Congressman invited his friend and neighbor Brooks Hurst to testify before a Congressional hearing on renewable fuels, without mentioning that his wife and Hurst are investors together in renewable fuel plants in Missouri.

“I look forward to a quick review of the facts and answering any questions that the Committee may have,— Graves said in the statement issued Wednesday. “I believe that a speedy review will show that all the rules of the House concerning testimony in front of the Small Business Committee were followed.—

Graves is the ranking member on the Small Business Committee, which held the March 4 hearing on “The State of the Renewable Fuels Industry in the Current Economy.—

At that hearing, Graves introduced Hurst as a farmer from northwest Missouri and added that Hurst’s family “is very active in biodiesel and ethanol production.—

Hurst added, “I’m also a member and investor in a small ethanol plant in the town of Craig.—

The only ethanol plant in Craig, Mo., is the Golden Triangle Energy Cooperative.

Graves’ financial disclosure forms indicate that his wife’s investment in Golden Triangle produced $15,001 to $50,000 in income in 2006 and $5,000 to $15,000 in 2007 and 2008. That investment was originally listed on Graves’ disclosure forms as being a joint asset that he shared with his wife.

Hurst told Roll Call in 2007 that in 2005 he also recruited “the Graves family— to become original investors with him in a biodiesel plant in Mexico, Mo. In 2007, that investment earned Lesley Graves $1,000 to $2,500 in income, but only $200 to $1000 in 2008, according to Graves’ disclosure forms.

Paul Singer contributed to this report.