Spurned Staffer Sends Email Accusing Top Republican of Ethics Violations
A former communications director for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent reporters a 1,959-word email Monday accusing the Washington Republican of “retribution” for in connection with an ethics complaint against her office — a serious charge that is the latest alleged impropriety in an ongoing Ethics Committee investigation.
Todd Winer, the former communications director for McMorris Rodgers and, more recently, for Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, allegedly brought a complaint against McMorris Rodgers in July 2013 for using taxpayer-funded staff and resources in her bid to become conference chairwoman. The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the case to the Ethics Committee in February, and the Ethics Committee said it was continuing to investigate the matter in March.
Winer called CQ Roll Call after this story was published to deny he was the source of the original complaint.
Since the March announcement, there hasn’t been much public movement on the investigation and Winer, who was working for Labrador, stayed silent.
That is, until now.
Winer confirmed his employment with Labrador recently ended — “We’re headed in different directions,” is all he would say to CQ Roll Call — and it’s apparent his silence has also come to an end.
In his email, Winer alleges the Ethics Committee is now investigating McMorris Rodgers’ efforts to “intimidate and punish” him. In fact, Winer says the Washington Republican’s staff spread lies about him to the media — an act that he says rises to “the level of defamation.”
The Ethics Committee declined comment Monday, and McMorris Rodgers’s office referred us to a statement by her attorney, Elliot Berke:
“We are sorry to see more frivolous allegations and information from the same source. From the beginning the Congresswoman and her staff have fully cooperated with the Ethics Committee and will continue to do so should it have more questions.”
Here’s the full text of the email Winer sent CQ Roll Call, including his own bolding and underlining and bullet system.
From: Todd Winer
To: Matt Fuller
Monday, September 08, 2014, 12:17 PM
Subject line: FW:What’s the Word Here
If you’re still covering the CMR scandal, please see below for a summary I’ve put together. Let me know if you have any questions. –Todd
Today, I am breaking my silence in the Cathy McMorris Rodgers scandal.
For the first time, I am speaking publicly in my role as a cooperative witness in the Ethics Committee investigation of Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Chairman of the House Republican Conference. I was McMorris Rodgers’ Communications Director from 2009 to 2013. In May 2012, I was promoted to the additional position of Senior Advisor.
- McMorris Rodgers (hereinafter “CMR”) is the first member of House leadership to be the subject of an Ethics Committee investigation in many years. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has already completed its investigation of CMR and found “substantial reason to believe” numerous accounts of wrongdoing by CMR and her office. The OCE found numerous examples of CMR breaking House rules banning the use of taxpayer money for campaign purposes. In addition, the OCE found there was “substantial reason to believe” that CMR violated House rules pertaining to leadership races – “mixing” taxpayer money and campaign money in her leadership race against a Republican colleague in 2012. The Ethics Committee investigation is ongoing. I have met with committee investigators three times, including as recently as last week. CMR’s campaign has spent about $150,000 in attorney fees during this investigation.
The Ethics Committee investigation is expanding. I can confirm for the first time that the Ethics Committee is investigating CMR’s efforts to intimidate and punish me for my cooperation with the OCE and the committee. CMR’s actions include exposing the name of a cooperative witness in the media, slandering a cooperative witness in the media, and seeking reprisals against a cooperative witness with the goal of damaging their career. I have been told on good authority that the Ethics Committee warned CMR against taking these actions, yet she went ahead and did them anyway. Her actions include trying to recruit reporters to write negative stories about me, even after the OCE report was published. This summer, the committee turned up new evidence on that front, which even I wasn’t aware of. The committee assures me they are taking CMR’s acts of retribution very seriously.
- As you may recall, on February 6 of this year, CMR sought to distract people from the breaking news of the Ethics Committee investigation by slandering me in the media – accusing me, essentially, of targeting her for an Ethics probe and lying about her actions as part of my OCE testimony (neither of which is true). Meanwhile, she claimed she did nothing wrong.
When the OCE report was officially released on March 24, 2014, it became clear to anyone who chose to read the
(or even a
of the report) that CMR’s story was a fantasy; that at least four of her staffers (including her Chief of Staff) confirmed violations of Congressional rules; and that my testimony – along with that of one other staffer – was the most consistent with the evidence the OCE reviewed and analyzed.
Sadly, on that day, CMR could not, once again, allow the facts to speak for themselves. Through her lawyer, she chose to highlight to journalists the numerous lies about me that her Chief of Staff, Jeremy Deutsch, gratuitously delivered as part of his OCE testimony.
These lies were expanded upon in the media as “McMorris Rodgers aides” and “leadership aides” provided additional false stories about me to several journalists. The goal of Team CMR was simple – to punish me for serving as a cooperative witness and to distract people from CMR’s own misconduct.
- To take one example, “McMorris Rodgers aides” said that one of my “infractions” while working there was “floating the congresswoman to the press as a potential vice-presidential pick for Mitt Romney.” This could be disproven by anyone who chose to visit Legistorm.com and take a look at my salary history. In May 2012 — after this “infraction” supposedly took place — I was promoted to the new position of “Communications Director/Senior Advisor,” a promotion that included an annual salary increase of $15,000.
- To take another example, “McMorris Rodgers aides” said I “threatened to derail McMorris Rodgers’s career and those of her aides after [my] employment with her ended.” This is a very serious charge and it is proposterous. If that was true, it is impossible that McMorris Rodgers would have written me a glowing letter of recommendation and called several prospective employers to recommend me while I was looking for work in 2013 (and all of this can be documented). I also went to her office – and talked with her on several occasions – after my depature. None of this would have been even remotely possible if I had truly “threatened [her] career and those of her aides.” Furthermore, if this charge was true, there would inevitably be some documentation of it, since CMR’s office – and nearly all Congressional offices – keep detailed files on potential threats to the member.
- In addition, I was not “terminated with cause” from CMR’s office, as was claimed by a CMR associate in the media. What happened is that I – and likely several other CMR employees – were pushed into leaving by her Chief of Staff, Jeremy Deutsch, without CMR’s knowledge or approval, shortly after her victory in the leadership race in 2012. I was so appalled by Deutsch’s behavior (which included yelling at me for almost an hour and lunging at me physically at one point) – and CMR’s lack of interest in trying to help me resolve this issue (even though I had been a loyal, successful employee) — that I became fine with the propsect of leaving, and I did so. Later on, when CMR was given proof that Deutsch had lied to her and taken this action behind her back, she again seemed disinterested, showing no desire to assist me. That again reaffirmed my conviction that she was not someone I wanted to continue working for (and all of this can be documented through emails). I held up my end of the bargain that Deutsch and I struck on December 10 – that I would stay on through the end of the transition, then leave. When I departed, I sent a nice email to my co-workers saying I was leaving, and I got a very generous reponse. Taken together, these incidents surrounding my depature symbolize how CMR runs her office and why she finds herself in so much trouble today: She has delegated nearly all of her power to Deutsch, even though Deutsch consistently abuses that power. After all, Deutsch insitigated nearly all of the violations CMR is accused of. But CMR not only tolerates Deutsch’s corruption, she approves of it (Exhibit A: Deutsch still works for her). Given Deutsch’s corruption – and his constant boasting about it (something I witnessed many times over three years) – it was only a matter of time before the OCE and/or the media caught wind of what he and CMR were up to.
- These are just a few examples. I have many more. The point is, just about everything that has been said about me by CMR — through her lawyer and her Chief of Staff — is a lie. In fact, it is worse than that. Since these lies were manufactured and then proactively distributed to the media with the purpose of damaging my reputation and my career, they rise to the level of defamation.
By defaming me, CMR and her team are not just trying to compromise a Congressional investigation (which contains its own penalties), they are breaking the law. To put it simply, what they are doing is illegal.
Even when it doesn’t pertain to me directly, CMR and her team have a pathological inability to tell the truth to Congressional investigators and the media. Here are a few quick examples:
- Before the original story broke on Feb 6, CMR’s spokesman was asked by a USA Today reporter to comment about the fact that CMR spent $70,000 on legal bills in late 2013. The spokesman said the fees were a product of CMR’s regular Congressional duties. This turned out to be false. Fittingly, CMR began her public defense with a false statement.
- When the story first broke, CMR insisted she didn’t violate ANY Congressional rules. However, when the OCE report came out on March 24, CMR did acknowledge the violation of at least one rule — holding a campaign debate meeting in her Congressional office.
- CMR insists that all of the negative information is coming from one cooperative witness (me). However, at least four staffers – including her Chief of Staff – acknowledge serious violations of House rules. Even CMR’s statements to the OCE are ambiguous and could be considered as acknowledging several violations.
As for the case itself: Everything the OCE alleges is true. Yet if you believe CMR and Deutsch, they never did anything wrong – ever; the only person who ever did anything wrong was me, and they didn’t know anything about it until after I left. There are many smoking guns which prove their story is false, but the most important one is the email I sent to CMR’s Chief of Staff, Jeremy Deutsch, on Oct. 4, 2012. In that email, I raised concerns about the growing blurring of the line between campaign work and government work, in violation of House rules (see p. 14 of the
). This proves beyond any doubt that Deutsch was instigating the push for campaign work by government employees, while I was the advocate for following House rules. However, Deutsch went ahead and ordered the campaign work done anyway. After that, our relationship changed fundamentally. He no longer saw me as a “team player” and he began to gradually reduce my role in the leadership race, just five months after promoting me. My email to Deutsch proves that CMR’s story is a fraud.
Here is the smoking gun that is still to come: When CMR’s brass was confronted by the OCE with the fact that there was no evidence to support their claim that CMR’s employees filled out “leave forms” in order to do campaign work (as would be required), CMR’s brass said it was because those forms were “lost in the move.” However, every CMR employee knows those forms are submitted electronically — and thus, they can’t be “lost in a move.” Their story was a lie, and a laughable one. I can confirm today that the Ethics Committee is extremely focused on this issue.
- It is my hope that the media — now armed with these facts — will go to CMR directly and ask her to explain these discrepancies and why she decided to base her whole defense on character assassination against an innocent witness.
- There is something in life called “shame.”
When someone like CMR knowingly does something wrong, they should either admit to it or keep quiet about it. CMR’s persistent effort to blame all of her problems on someone she knows is innocent is appalling and shameful.
It is beneath the office of a member of Congress. And it is certainly beneath any member who occupies a “leadership” position.
CMR’s work to expose, slander, and intimidate a cooperative witness in a Congressional investigation is an unprecedented abuse of power. In addition, CMR has violated numerous Congressional rules, lied about those violations, and worked to cover them up. That will become crystal clear as the Ethics Committee continues its work.
I will continue to cooperate with the Ethics Committee investigation. It is my conviction that the committee will take things to the next level by convening an Investigate Subcommittee shortly after the elections. Given the balance of evidence — and CMR’s work to compromise the integrity of the Ethics Committee — I don’t see any other possible scenario.
Clarification 5:21 p.m.
Winer has denied he was the source of the original complaint, as reported in earlier versions of this post.