January 3, 2017

Today’s Top Story — House Republicans Vote to Gut Independent Ethics Office

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

As reported in today’s New York Times, House Republicans — apparently without any advance notice or debate on the measure — voted to effectively kill the Office on Congressional Ethics. This was an independent office set up in 2008 in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail. According to the Times, “the surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from health care to infrastructure, issues that will be the subject of intense lobbying from corporate interests.” Notably, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Majority Leader Representative Kevin McCarthy of California spoke out during the meeting to oppose the measure, but to no avail.

House Minority Leader Representative Nancy Pelosi of California joined others who had worked to create the office in expressing outrage at the move and the secretive way it was orchestrated. “Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House G.O.P. has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement on Monday night. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics has been controversial since its creation and has faced intense criticism from many of its lawmaker targets — both Democrats and Republicans — as its investigations have consistently been more aggressive than those conducted by the House Ethics Committee. But by moving all of the authority to the House Ethics Committee, several ethics lawyers said the House risks becoming far too protective of members accused of wrongdoing. According to Bryson Morgan, who worked as an investigative lawyer at the Office of Congressional Ethics from 2013 until 2015, under his interpretation of the new rules, members of the House committee could move to stop an inquiry even before it was completed. “This is huge,” Morgan said, and “effectively allows the committee to shut down any independent investigation into member misconduct.”

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