House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, during the House Judiciary Immigration and Border Security subcommittee hearing to examine the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on the security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Republicans Go to Jail Too. They Need an Ethics Office.

Led by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, House Republicans want to scuttle the Office of Congressional Ethics. It seems they don’t like the way the office is treating them and I suspect they fear Democrats will use it against them in the coming years as Democrats seek to make ethics the center piece of their argument against Trump.

But there needs to be an independent ethics body in the House of Representatives. Likewise, it is hard to argue the Office of Ethics has run roughshod over congressmen of either party. After the Democrats’ check kiting scandal that led to the downfall of a series of powerful Democrats, the Office of Congressional Ethics showed its value and necessity.

Congressmen have a tendency to scratch each other’s backs and cover for each other. I’m not sure, beyond what I speculated about above, why Goodlatte would want to scrap that office, but I think we can all admit it looks really bad.

It also is something the House Republican leaders were opposed to. Both Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposed the effort.

The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.

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. The House Republicans’ move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.

For the record, these are the Republicans who were convicted of crimes in the last decade in Congress (all citations from Wikipedia).

  • Michael Grimm (R-NY) pleaded guilty of felony tax evasion. This was the fourth count in a 20-count indictment brought against him for improper use of campaign funds. The guilty plea had a maximum sentence of three years; he was sentenced to three months in prison. (2015)
  • Trey Radel (R-FL) was convicted of possession of cocaine in November 2013. As a first-time offender, he was sentenced to one year probation and fined $250. Radel announced he would take a leave of absence, but did not resign. Later, under pressure from a number of Republican leaders, he announced through a spokesperson that he would resign. (2013)
  • Rick Renzi (R-AZ) was found guilty on 17 of 32 counts against him June 12, 2013, including wire fraud, conspiracy, extortion, racketeering, money laundering and making false statements to insurance regulators. (2013)
  • Bob Ney (R-OH) pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements as a result of his receiving trips from Abramoff in exchange for legislative favors. Ney received 30 months in prison. (2007)
  • Duke Cunningham (R-CA) pleaded guilty November 28, 2005, to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion in what came to be called the Cunningham scandal and was sentenced to over eight years in prison. (2005)

There have also been Democrats, from William Jefferson who had money in his freezer to Chaka Fattah.

The Office of Congressional Ethics seems like a good idea and I have not yet heard a compelling reason for scuttling it, other than Bob Goodlatte wants more power.

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Erick Erickson

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