GOP Demand for Ethics Trials Fails to Draw Response

Posted September 29, 2010 at 4:39pm

House Democratic leaders remained silent Wednesday in response to Republican accusations that House ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren has blocked the ethics trials of two senior Democrats from occurring before the November elections.

The California Democrat did not respond to reporters as she walked onto the House floor early Wednesday afternoon.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jo Bonner (Ala.), and its four other Republican members — Reps. Mike Conaway (Texas), Gregg Harper (Miss.), Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Michael McCaul (Texas) — accused Lofgren of refusing to schedule the ethics trials of Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) declined to comment Wednesday on the Republican statement, saying he is not familiar with the ethics panel’s internal deliberations in the matter.

“I don’t know the facts,” Hoyer told Roll Call and later added, “I don’t want to anticipate how the chairwoman would respond.”

According to the statement issued Tuesday, Bonner and his colleagues were responding to statements Hoyer made Sunday attributing the lack of trial dates to “scheduling problems” within the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who also sits on the ethics panel, said Wednesday that he was surprised by his GOP colleagues’ decision to issue the statement.

“I’m troubled by it,” Butterfield said. “We have had some very collegial conversations. The unfortunate thing is we cannot tell the other side of the story because of the confidentiality of the proceedings.”

Butterfield added that there are “reasons” neither trial date has been set but said he could not give details.

The North Carolina lawmaker compared his service on the ethics committee to his prior career as a judge in his home state.

“It would have been completely inappropriate for me to criticize my colleagues on the court,” he said.

Bonner, who indicated Tuesday that he would not discuss his statement further, declined to discuss the ethics panel via a spokesman Wednesday.

McCaul said Wednesday that the document should speak for itself. He declined to explain how Republicans arrived at the decision to release the statement.

“We always conduct ourselves on a bipartisan basis,” he said.

In the statement Tuesday, Bonner stated that he had consulted with Lofgren before its publication, following committee rules that require the panel’s leaders to discuss any public statements. A Democratic aide denied Tuesday that Lofgren had been consulted about the GOP statement.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday praised Bonner’s decision to release the statement.

“As I recall, both Mr. Rangel and Mrs. Waters asked the ethics committee for a speedy trial so that they could clear their names, and I think the fact that the five members, the five Republican members of the bipartisan ethics committee have had to resort to sending a letter to the chairman indicates that all is not well,” Boehner said at a news conference. “These Members deserve an opportunity to lay their facts on the table, and why it’s not happening is beyond me, and I think it’s appropriate for our Members to do what they have done.”

Waters said she had not reviewed the Republican statement Wednesday morning and declined to comment. A spokesman for Rangel could not be reached for comment.

An ethics subcommittee charged Rangel in July with 13 counts of wrongdoing, including allegations that he misused federal resources to solicit donations for a City College of New York center named in his honor, accepted a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign office, failed to pay taxes on a Dominican Republic villa and filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms. Rangel has since paid the overdue taxes.

The New York Democrat acknowledged in a speech on the House floor in August that he may have violated some House rules, but he denied that his actions were corrupt.

A different investigative subcommittee charged Waters in August with violating the chamber’s rules over allegations that her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, tried to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock.

The California Democrat has disputed allegations of wrongdoing by her office.