King Was Unaware of Ethics Panel’s Thompson Probe

Posted December 7, 2009 at 2:46pm

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he had no idea that the House ethics committee was investigating allegations that the committee’s chairman scheduled hearings to pressure companies into making campaign donations.

King said that no Republican staff have been investigated in the probe, and “the first I heard about it was in the press reports.—The Washington Post reported last week that the ethics committee is investigating Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the operations of the committee. Thompson and his staff have denied the allegations of improprieties and said they have not been contacted by the ethics committee.

An ethics committee document first reported by the Washington Post in October indicates that the ethics committee this summer was looking into complaints by a former Homeland Security staffer that she had been fired for “raising concerns about certain requests made by a lobbyist.—

King said he had not heard these allegations and has no opinion about the charges. “I would prefer to wait until the ethics committee makes its rulings,— King told Roll Call on Monday.

King said his dispute with Thompson has been about the committee’s agenda, not ethics. King argues that with Thompson as chairman, Homeland Security has drifted away from focusing on security concerns.

“We have felt strongly on the Republican side that the committee should be focused more on what we consider to be terrorist issues,— he said.

For example, under Thompson’s chairmanship, the committee has not held a hearing on the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and has not passed a Homeland Security Department authorization bill in the past two years, King said. In addition, King said that Thompson has rejected a request by Republicans on the committee for a hearing on the Fort Hood shootings.

Lanier Avant, Thompson’s chief of staff, said, “we disagree— about the committee’s substantive agenda. Avant said the committee has passed several pieces of substantive legislation, including a chemical security bill, and has authorized legislation for the Transportation Security Administration.

Thompson is in the planning stages for a Congressional delegation to Guantánamo Bay and is putting off a decision on Fort Hood until the administration has completed its internal review of the case.“The committee has had an aggressive homeland security agenda— with Thompson in the chair, Avant said.

Avant also dismissed the ethics probe of his boss. “The chairman sees the entire episode really as an insult to the way that he has run and directed the committee,— Avant said. “It just flies in the face of reality.—

The investigation would be the second ethics review of Thompson. The ethics committee is already investigating whether Thompson and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus accepted an improper gift by traveling to an annual Caribbean conference sponsored by the nonprofit Carib News Foundation. Roll Call has reported that sources close to that investigation expect the Members to be exonerated of wrongdoing, based partly on the fact that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct had approved the same trip for years.