My Congressman and the Shutdown of the House Ethics Committee

In February 2005, House Republicans ousted their colleague Joel Hefley of Colorado, from the chairmanship of the House Ethics Committee. [1] Hefley led several investigations of previous allegations against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, resulting in three admonitions from the committee. [2] Republican leadership appointed my Congressman, Doc Hastings, to replace Hefley as chairman of the House Ethics Committee. [3] Hastings was a loyal ally to Delay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. [4] Tom Delay funneled money to Doc Hastings’ election committee. [5]

The Republican leaders not only removed Joel Hefley from the chairmanship, but also took away his seat on the Ethics Committee. [6] In turn, the leadership appointed two new members who contributed to Tom Delay’s legal defense fund, created to pay the costs of defending a potential indictment against Delay for campaign fraud, and who received campaign contributions from DeLay. [7] The defense fund could also be used to defray the expense of DeLay defending himself against House Ethics Committee charges. [8]

Upon his removal as Chairman of the Ethics Committee, Congressman Joel Hefley stated he was removed because he was too independent. [9] Hefley added: there is “a bad perception out there that there was a purge in the committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did.” [10] “Nobody should be there to protect anybody,” he said. [11] “They should be there to protect the integrity of the institution.” [12] House leaders claimed the removal of Joel Hefley and the appointment of Doc Hastings was only a normal change in committee assignments. [13] Nevertheless, House leadership aides conceded the leadership appointed Hastings, because Hastings could be “trusted.” [14]

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the removal of Joel Hefley sent “a chilling message to members who value upholding the highest ethical standard over partisan loyalty.” [15] Fred Wertheimer, President of the watchdog group Democracy 21, said House Speaker Hastert “seriously damaged the integrity of the House as an institution and his own credibility as the leader of the House.” [16]

Upon the appointment of Doc Hastings, as Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen, remarked: “House Republican leaders can rest assured they are now safe from ethics enforcement.” [17] Holman was accurate.

The appointment of Doc Hastings, as Chair of the House Ethics Committee, led to a shutdown of the committee for seven months, during which time Hastings attempted to impose new rules and install his assistant as a staffer to the committee. [18] Upon assuming the chairmanship, Hastings fired Staff Director and Chief Counsel John Vargo and chief spokesperson Paul Lewis, both long-term staff members of the ethics panel. [19] Hastings attempted to replace Vargo with Ed Cassidy, the Chief of Staff of Hastings’ congressional office. [20] Cassidy claimed committee rules allowed for his appointment. [21] By appointing Cassidy, Hastings, also according to Cassidy, intended on exercising more control over the ethics panel. [22]

Democrat members of the Ethics Committee objected to the appointment of Ed Cassidy. [23] Democrats declared that the staff purge was another act aimed at punishing the committee for rebuking DeLay. [24] Ethics Committee ranking member Alan Mollohan, of West Virginia, said the appointment of Cassidy violated rules that require committee professional staffers, who take part in investigations of House members, to be nonpartisan and elected by committee members. [25] “I don’t think it’s possible to make the rule clearer,” he said. [26] “It is very simple.” [27]

Republicans responded by charging Ranking Member Mollohan with political gamesmanship for bringing the committee to a halt. [28] Former Chairman and Republican Hefley, however, entered into the Congressional Record a statement defending Mollohan saying that “If I had been the ranking member and the majority party unilaterally fired the senior committee staff in contradiction to rules which say both the majority and minority must agree, I would have had to react, just as Representative Mollohan did.” [29]  

Not only did the Republicans purge the House Ethics Committee of recalcitrant members and staffers, but the Republican majority of the House of Representatives, including Doc Hastings, changed committee rules. [31] The House voted 220-195, with 220 Republicans approving and 195 Democrats dissenting, to issue the new ethics rules. [32] The Republican House of Representatives voted that a majority of the members of the committee must vote for an investigation in order for an inquiry to be launched. [33] Because the ethics committee is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, this change effectively allowed one party to kill an investigation. [34] Previously, if the committee remained deadlocked for forty-five days, an investigation was automatically triggered. [35] A second rule change allowed multiple witnesses to be prepared for their testimony by the same lawyer, a move that had been previously discouraged to prevent collaboration between witnesses. [36] A third new rule required the committee to inform the subject of an inquiry of the investigation and allow the accused to contest the official letter before the charges become part of the public record. [37] In response to the rules changes, Alan Mollohan, remarked: “We might as well not have an ethics committee.” [38] 

Because of the change in rules and the imposition of partisan staffers, the House Ethics Committee shut down until September 2005, during a time that Republican members, including Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and Duke Cunningham, avoided charges of illegal activity. [39] In the meantime, Common Cause called for Doc Hastings to resign as committee chairman and for the Republican leadership to appoint an independent counsel to clear up pending, but neglected investigations. [40] On June 30, 2005, Doc Hastings finally relented and agreed that his chief aide, Ed Cassidy, would not serve as committee chief counsel. [41]

Despite the reopening of the House Ethics Committee, Doc Hastings refused to investigate the wrongful behavior of House Majority Leader Tom Delay. [42] DeLay was accused of accepting a trip paid for by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was under investigation over allegations that he defrauded clients of millions of dollars. [43] Hastings took similar trips at the expense of Hanford companies. [44] Hastings also took $14,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff’s Seattle-based lobbying firm, and nearly $6,000 from ARMPAC, a political action committee controlled by Tom Delay. [45]

In reaction to Hastings appointment to chair a committee charged with investigating conduct, in which Hastings himself engaged, Larry Noble, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-contribution watchdog group, stated in February 2005: “This raises problems for Hastings as chairman of the ethics committee because one of the main issues he will face, if the committee ever gets its act together, will be privately paid congressional travel.” [46] Noble added: “If Hastings has the same problems as DeLay, there’s a perception of a conflict of interest. He may say that everybody does it, but in his role as ethics chairman, he isn’t everybody.” [47]

In October 2005, Doc Hastings stated the House Ethics Committee will “not investigate a 15-month-old complaint about DeLay’s role in alleged illegal campaign contributions in Texas” because such an investigation would duplicate the Texas prosecutor’s work. [48] “We don’t have the resources,” he told the Yakima Herald Republic. [49]

Hastings, who should have investigated Tom DeLay, also defended Delay, echoing the indicted Congressman’s assertions that the charges are a “political vendetta.” [50] In response, Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., commented: “It’s outrageous for the chairman of the ethics committee to virtually endorse the idea that the indictment is a political vendetta. It’s a matter that is before the committee.” [51]

In fact, once Doc Hastings became Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Tom DeLay received no further admonitions, and Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney incurred no investigation. During this time, the House leadership also hid the sexual predatory behavior of Mark Foley. [52]

Notes

[1] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01; “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; “Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress,” Public Citizen, February 2, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1868.

[2] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01; “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; Charles Babington, “DeLay Draws Third Rebuke,” Washington Post, October 7, 2004, page A01; “Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress,” Public Citizen, February 2, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1868.

[3] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01; “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; “Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress,” Public Citizen, February 2, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1868.

[4] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01; “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; “Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress,” Public Citizen, February 2, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1868.

[5] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005; Campaign contribution records for Hastings campaigns, found at http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/can_detail/H2WA04041/; “Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress,” Public Citizen, February 2, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1868.

[6] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01.

[7] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01; http://www.usdlogic.com/usd/delay/dr.htm; “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; “Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress,” Public Citizen, February 2, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1868.

[8] “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html.

[9] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01; Alexander Bolton, “Hefley: ‘I was threatened’ Ethics committee’s actions against DeLay trigger angry response from Republicans,” The Hill, October 13, 2004.

[10] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01.

[11] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01.

[12] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01.

[13] Mike Allen, “GOP Shifts Gears on Ethics Rule; House Democrats Assail Change Limiting Ways and Investigation Can Start,” Washington Post, January 5, 2005, page A15.

[14] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01.

[15] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01.

[16] Mike Allen, “House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics Chief,” Washington Post, February 3, 2005, page A01.

[17] “Appointments of Rep. Doc Hastings and Other DeLay Allies to House Ethics Committee Deals Final Blow to Ethics in Congress,” Public Citizen, February 2, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1868.

[18] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005; “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; “Statement of Mark Glaze, Director of the Government Ethics Program at the Campaign Legal Center, on Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings’ Decision to Remove Professional Ethics Panel Staffers,” The Campaign Legal Center, February 16, 2005, found at: http://www.campaignlegalcenter.org/press-1527.html; Mike Allen “House Ethics Panel in Gridlock; Democrats Refuse to Participate Under New GOP Rules,” Washington Post, March 11, 2005, Page A02; Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005; Gail Russell Chaddock, “House ethics panel lapses at an awkward time,” Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2005.

[19] “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html.

[20] “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html.

[21] “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html.

[22] “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html.

[23] “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; Mike Allen “House Ethics Panel in Gridlock; Democrats Refuse to Participate Under New GOP Rules,” Washington Post, March 11, 2005, Page A02; Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[24] “House Ethics Chair Fires Lawyers,” Associated Press, Wednesday, February 16, 2005, which can viewed at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,147833,00.html; Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[25] Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[26] Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[27] Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[28] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee.

[29] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee.

[30] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee.

[31] Mike Allen, “GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005, page A01; http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1.

[32] Mike Allen, “GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005, page A01; http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1.

[33] Mike Allen, “GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005, page A01; http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1.

[34] Mike Allen, “GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005, page A01; http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1.

[35] Mike Allen, “GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005, page A01; http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1.

[36] Mike Allen, “GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005, page A01; http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1.

[37] Mike Allen, “GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005, page A01; http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1.

[38] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=House_Ethics_Committee#_note-1; Gail Russell Chaddock, “House ethics panel lapses at an awkward time,” Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2005.

[39] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005; Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, “In a Season of Scandals, Ethics Panels Are on Sidelines,” Washington Post, December 5, 2005, page A02.

[40] Common Cause, “Illinois Constituents, Four Watchdog Groups Call for Outside Counsel to Investigate DeLay Scandals,” June 28, 2005, found at: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1979.

[41] Larry Margasak, “House ethics panel ends impasse; DeLy investigation now possible,” Associated Press, July 1, 2005.

[42] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005; Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[43] Mike Allen “House Ethics Panel in Gridlock; Democrats Refuse to Participate Under New GOP Rules,” Washington Post, March 11, 2005, Page A02; Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[44] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005; Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[45] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005; Campaign contribution records for Hastings campaigns, found at http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/can_detail/H2WA04041/.

[46] Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[47] Alicia Mundy, “Ethics claims target Doc Hastings,” Seattle Times, June 25, 2005.

[48] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005.

[49] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005.

[50] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005.

[51] Alicia Mundy, “Hastings says ethics panel won’t investigate DeLay,” Seattle Times, October 6, 2005.

[52] http://thinkprogress.org/2006/10/02/excuses-foley.

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~ by wa4thcddems on February 5, 2010.

One Response to “My Congressman and the Shutdown of the House Ethics Committee”

  1. […] My Congressman and the Shutdown of the House Ethics Committee […]

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