Ethics Panel Probing Jackson Jr., Graves, Waters
Updated 4:53 p.m.
By Ben Pershing
The House ethics committee announced Wednesday that it is probing Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), fresh evidence that the chamber's disciplinary process has ramped up since it created an office last year to vet allegations against lawmakers.
The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct made its actions known in three separate statements, revealing that its 10 members -- five Republicans and five Democrats -- had voted unanimously Tuesday to extend for 45 days its reviews of allegations against Graves and Waters, after the year-old Office of Congressional Ethics had referred the cases to the panel for further consideration. The Graves investigation now appears to have prompted a dispute between the OCE and the ethics panel.
And the committee said that it had already been investigating Jackson -- which had already been made public -- when it received a separate referral from the OCE on the Illinois lawmaker, but would hold off on investigating further for the time being.
The probe of Jackson stems from allegations, the committee reports, that he "may have offered to raise funds" for then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for Jackson being appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Obama. OCE informed the ethics committee it had learned that "staff resources" from Jackson's D.C. and Illinois district offices "were used to mount a 'public campaign'" to win the appointment for Jackson, which may have violated rules governing the proper use of lawmakers' House office budgets.
Blagojevich has since been impeached and removed from office, and is under federal indictment. The ethics panel reports that the Justice Department has asked it to defer its probe of Jackson until after the federal investigation is complete, a common occurrence when Justice and the ethics committee are probing the same subject. Jackson has in the past denied any wrongdoing, and his office declined to comment Wednesday.
The committee did not publicly reveal what allegations it is weighing against Waters or Graves.
Graves, meanwhile, has faced questions in the past about his failure to disclose the use of a private plane owned by a campaign contributor, and about his inviting a friend and business partner to testify before the Small Business Committee, on which Graves serves as the top Republican. A statement from the Missouri lawmaker's office Wednesday suggests that the investigation is related to the latter controversy.
"I look forward to a quick review of the facts and answering any questions that the Committee may have," Graves said in the statement. "I believe that a speedy review will show that all the rules of the House concerning testimony in front of the Small Business Committee were followed."
The Graves case has sparked a spat between the OCE and the ethics committee. The ethics panel noted in its statement that the OCE "did not find a 'substantial reason to believe' that there was a substantive violation" of any ethics rules by Graves, but the office had referred the case anyway. And, the panel announced, the OCE's report included "potentially exculpatory materials" that should have been provided to Graves, but wasn't.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the OCE disputed that version of events, saying the ethics committee "mischaracterized" the office's position, that the OCE "did find substantial reason to believe that a substantive violation may have occurred" and that "the information the SOOC suggests 'may' be exculpatory was either in Representative Graves' possession directly or through his counsel, or was not pertinent. We respectfully note that documents in the referral to the SOOC make this clear. The OCE would never withhold exculpatory information from a subject of an investigation and did not in this instance."
Under the system established in 2008, the OCE preliminarily reviews allegations against members of Congress and then decides whether they merit review by the full ethics committee, which has been accused by some critics of dragging its feet in investigating members and ignoring widely-publicized misdeeds.
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