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Ethics Panel Probing Jackson Jr., Graves, Waters

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is one of three lawmakers who were revealed Wednesday to be under investigation by the House ethics committee.(By Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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.

In 2008, Waters faced media scrutiny for allegedly helping a bank in which she and her husband had held stock, OneUnited Bank, receive federal funding through the TARP program.

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.

By Ben Pershing  |  September 16, 2009; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules , House  
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I can hear it now.......the defense will be you're coming after me because I'm black. Sorry guys, it won't pass the smell test.

Posted by: MOMLEE | September 16, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

It's a start. What about Rangel, Murtha, Frank, Dodd to name a few others?

Posted by: tnvret | September 16, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

"I can hear it now.......the defense will be you're coming after me because I'm black. Sorry guys, it won't pass the smell test.

Posted by: MOMLEE | September 16, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse "

And conservatives wonder why people think they are racist?
It would be funny if Sam Graves tried that one.

Posted by: billy8 | September 16, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Amen, it's a start, but don't expect anything to come out of it. Remember, Nancy's running that show and if she doesn't want something to move forward, guess what: it's not moving forward. Besides, if anybody ever needed to be investigated, it's Nancy, and that's not going to happen. And yes, the race card will get played; you can count on it.

Posted by: flintston | September 16, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

If the ethics panel went after every crook in Congress, both houses would be empty of legislators.

Posted by: Diogenes | September 16, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

....lets hope this doesn't wake up Jesse took years to put him under his rock.

Posted by: JWx2 | September 16, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Good point. One Jesse at a time is more than enough.

Posted by: flintston | September 16, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Congress people enforcing rules against congress people.

How do you think that's going to workout?

Posted by: callmeishmael1 | September 16, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

If I recall correctly, Nancy Pelosi promised at this time last year that the investigation of Charles Rangel would be completed prior to the new Congess being sworn in in January 2009.
It is currently September 2009 and the nothing has been done.

I have serious doubts that any serious investigation of any sitting Democratic member of the House will be completed in a timely fashion.

I would guess that the House will investigate Graves quickly because he is a Republican and the Party in power can use it go on the attack.

Posted by: mwhoke | September 16, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

graves get convicted and waters and the other guy get a metal....
isn't that how it works...

Posted by: DwightCollins | September 16, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Hmm ... Blagojevich was drawn and quartered for allegedly attempting to sell the Illinois Senate seat, but the guy who tried to buy the seat is untouched. This stinks to high heaven.

Posted by: atom2 | September 16, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

How can anybody take these clowns seriously until they fillet Charlie Wrangle? So if you do something small but are not a chief, you get nailed; but if you are one of Nancy Pelosi's henchmen, like Wrangle, nothing happens. Great message you are sending to our youth. My only advice is either clean up your chambers or be prepared to lose everthing in the next election. The VOTERS are fed up!

Posted by: jimblair1 | September 17, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

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