Office of Congressional Ethics Fires Back At House Ethics Committee

The Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”) released a public response to the criticisms made by the House Ethics Committee regarding OCE’s conduct in an investigation of a Member of Congress.  The preamble and introduction to the OCE response states:

On October 29, 2009, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (hereafter “SOOC”) issued a report entitled, “In the Matter of Representative Sam Graves.”  In addition to describing the SOOC’s action in the matter, approximately half of the report asserted six argumentative criticisms of the Office of Congressional Ethics” (hereafter “OCE”) investigative process and internal rules.  At its next regularly schedule meeting, the Board of OCE adopted the following response.  The Board of the OCE finds the SOOC’s criticisms in error legally and factually.  

 As a general matter the Board finds no authority under which the SOOC may interpose its judgment on the validity of a referral from the OCE based on its evaluation of the adequacy of the OCE’s procedures.  Under the new ethics framework established by House Resolution 895 of the 110th Congress, as amended (hereafter the “Resolution”) the OCE is to be independent of and not subject to oversight by the SOOC.  The SOOC has jurisdiction over the Code of Official Conduct; the OCE Board has jurisdiction over the OCE investigative process.

 The Board also notes that the Resolution grants no discretion to the SOOC to permanently withhold publication of an OCE report and findings when the OCE Board has recommended further review.  Contrary to its statement that “the Standards Committee concluded that, on balance, the public interest was served by publication of OCE’s Report and Findings in this case, and thus the Standards Committee declined to withhold publication of OCE’s Report and Findings,” the SOOC has no authority to “balance” interests in determining whether to permanently withhold the OCE’s reports and findings.  (footnotes omitted)

 It remains to be seen how the House Ethics Committee will respond to this latest development.  However, the publication of this response appears to indicate an escalation in the tension between OCE and the House Ethics Committee.  Roll Call ($) published an article on these developments, and the OCE response can be found here.

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