The Office of Congressional Ethics has undertaken nine investigations into potential misconduct of lawmakers and employees in the House, two of which have been terminated.
The independent, non-partisan investigative entity has moved seven matters to a second-phase review. That means they have cleared a preliminary review stage, which is authorized by two Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) board members — one appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and one by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, both of whom represent California — if the information provides a reasonable basis to believe a violation may have occurred. This preliminary review has to be completed in 30 days.
A second-phase review needs authorization from three OCE board members if the available information provides probable cause to believe a violation may have occurred. The OCE board started a second-phase review for seven matters, four of which have been granted an extension. The second-phase review must be completed in 45 days and has the option of a 14-day extension. Most OCE reviews have resulted in termination or dismissal of the matter.
At the conclusion of the second-phase review, four OCE board members must vote to recommend to the House Ethics Committee whether the matter warrants review by the committee or that it should be dismissed. The general standard of proof for the OCE to refer a matter to the Ethics Committee is substantial reason to believe a violation may have occurred. The OCE does not have the power to sanction members, officers or employees of the House. No referrals have been transmitted to the House Ethics Committee this Congress.
Pelosi and McCarthy appointed the OCE board on March 18, and as a result, the OCE didn’t take any actions over the first quarter of 2019.
Earlier this month, the Dallas Morning News first reported that the top Republican on the House Ethics Committee, Kenny Marchant of Texas, has an ethics complaint against him for potentially impermissible reimbursements from his campaign account to congressional staffers. Marchant confirmed the existence of a complaint before the OCE with Roll Call on July 10.
Judicial Watch, a conservative group, announced on July 23 that they filed a complaint with OCE against Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, asking for a “a full investigation into potential crimes tied to allegations that Rep. Ilhan Omar may have married her biological brother.”