Goodlatte Leads Republicans In Ethics Investigation Changes
In a surprise move Monday night, House Republicans in Washington voted to radically change ethics investigations. With no advance notice or debate, the House Republican Committee approved an amendment to House rules put forth by Republican Bob Goodlatte, who represents Highland and Bath Counties in the Sixth District and chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Goodlatte’s amendment would effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent ethics office set up by Democrats in 2008 in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail.
The Office which is overseen by a six-member outside board, does not have subpoena power. But it has its own staff of investigators who spend weeks conducting confidential interviews and collecting documents based on complaints they receive from the public, or news media reports, before issuing findings that detail any possible violation of federal rules or laws. The board then votes on whether to refer the matter to the full House Ethics Committee. Even if the Committee dismisses the potential ethics violation as unfounded, it is required to release the Office of Congressional Ethics report detailing the alleged wrongdoing, which creates a deterrent to such questionable behavior by lawmakers. The O.C.E. publicly discloses it’s findings after their recommendation to the Committee.
Under the new proposal, the Office would be re-named the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, which could no longer take anonymous complaints and all of its investigations would be overseen by the House Ethics Committee itself.
Despite Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Majority leader Kevin McCarthy speaking in opposition to the move, it eventually passed 119 to 74. The full House is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on the rules, which would last for two years, until the next congressional elections.
Watchdog groups quickly denounced the move, joined by other lawmakers, including House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi who said “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. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
Representative Goodlatte defended the move in a statement, saying “The amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics. It also improves upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify. The OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work.”
In an update to this story, just before it originally aired during Noon Hour Magazine, House Republican lawmakers voted to strip the amendment on the ethics office from a package of rules that is due to be voted upon later in the House of Representatives. This followed critical commentary on the amendment from President-elect Donald Trump on his Twitter account.
Our thanks to the New York Times and the website Politco for assistance with this story.