Ethics investigation of Buchanan extended

The House Ethics Committee indefinitely extended an inquiry Wednesday into whether Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) attempted to procure a false affidavit from a witness testifying about allegations of a straw-donor scheme.

The chairman and ranking member of the panel said they had decided to continue reviewing allegations against Buchanan, but that the extension did not indicate that any ethics violation had occurred.

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The committee also released the complaint by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent panel, that led to the committee's inquiry. That report showed that the OCE board, in a 6-0 vote in January, determined that "there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Buchanan attempted to influence the testimony of a witness" in a proceeding before the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The FEC and the Justice Department probed allegations that employees at an auto dealership Buchanan once owned in Florida were illegally reimbursed for donations they made to his campaign. FEC attorneys said they came close to supporting a finding that it was more likely than not that he violated campaign finance law.

But the FEC’s case was plagued by a lack of evidence and doubts about the credibility of the key witness, and the FEC dropped its case against Buchanan, who also serves as the finance vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The committee also released a letter Buchanan's attorneys sent in March arguing that OCE was prejudiced against Buchanan and had engaged in misconduct by withholding exculpatory evidence, misinterpreting documents and concealing evidence that the witness in question was himself dishonest.

"The report is a disgrace," wrote Buchanan's attorneys. "The committee should reject its conclusions and hold accountable those individuals responsible for deliberately misleading the committee and ignoring their obligations."

Buchanan spokesman Max Goodman on Wednesday said, “There is absolutely nothing new in this report. Every allegation was painstakingly reviewed and unequivocally rejected by the FEC.” He added that the report “relies exclusively on the contradictory testimony of one unreliable and thoroughly discredited witness.”

The OCE, which rarely comments publicly, responded to the statements by Buchanan and his attorneys.

"The notion that the OCE conducted this investigation with regard to anything other than the facts is absolutely false," said OCE spokeswoman Kelly Brewington. "The OCE conducted this review, as it does all its investigations, in a manner that was thorough and professional, taking great care to abide by the letter and the spirit of our rules and procedures. Any indication to the contrary is false.

"There was not a shred of exculpatory evidence that was not turned over to Rep. Buchanan’s attorneys. Everything that could be considered exculpatory to the matter the Board considered was provided, pursuant to our rules. Our review was factual, fair and in keeping with the mission the House tasked us with – to assist the House in upholding the highest of ethical standards for members and staff."

There is no deadline for the House Ethics Committee to complete its inquiry into Buchanan. The committee also has a second, unrelated inquiry pending into whether Buchanan violated federal law and House rules by failing to report his positions in 17 entities when filing his financial disclosures. Buchanan maintained that any omissions had been errors and that he later corrected his disclosures.

Updated at 7:34 p.m.