Rep. Laura Richardson reprimanded by House for ethics violations

The House voted to reprimand Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) for using House resources for her own personal purposes and pressuring and intimidating her staff to work on her campaign, after a debate in which Richardson continued to argue on the floor that the report mischaracterized some of these violations.

By voice vote, members approved the bipartisan Ethics Committee report outlining seven violations against Richardson, which includes the charge of trying to obstruct the investigation. It also recommended at $10,000 fine, which Richardson must pay out of her personal funds by December.

Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the committee unanimously agreed that a reprimand was in order, and said this step is needed to ensure the integrity of the House.

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"The recommendation for sanction we present to you today will ensure that Rep. Richardson is held accountable for her conduct," Sanchez said. "It will also reaffirm the credibility of the House by demonstrating our commitment to upholding and enforcing the ethics standards that apply to all of us equally.

"The misconduct in this matter was serious, and in accordance with House precedent, it merits the serious sanction of reprimand."

Committee member Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said on the floor that while he does not relish this process, he agrees that the findings by the committee's investigative subcommittee (ISC) against Richardson must be acknowledged by the full House.

“Through her misconduct Rep. Laura Richardson has violated the public trust. While no member wants to sit in judgment of a colleague, it is our duty to protect the integrity of the House," he said.

As one example of her ethics violations, Dent read a portion of a letter from one of Richardson's staffers when she resigned.

"The environment Rep. Richardson cultivated in her office was so poor that one of her employees, a detailee from the Wounded Warriors program, wrote in her letter of resignation, 'As a service-connected disabled veteran, it is sad to say that I would rather be at war in Afghanistan than work under people that are morally corrupt,' " Dent said.

Richardson said she did not intend to speak during floor consideration of the report, but ended up speaking for nearly 10 minutes to criticize it. 

"I had no desire or intent to prolong the debate on this report, but given what has now been stated during this debate, which is contrary to what I understood to be agreed to, I want to make sure that my colleagues are aware of several issues critical to understanding the full context of this resolution," she said.

In particular, she accused the committee of signaling that it was going to act against Richardson, which she said influenced the testimony of her staff.

"During the Rule 18A inquiry at the outset of the committee's process, the committee counsel improperly influenced witnesses by telling them, a year before any such decision had been made by the Ethics Committee, that the Ethics Committee was likely to empanel an investigative subcommittee, thereby clearly signaling that the Ethics Committee staff at least already believed that I, Rep. Richardson, was guilty of misconduct, and given the staff discussions clearly influenced subsequent staff testimony," Richardson said.

She also said the committee altered the final report without her knowledge, and said she continues to reject the assertion that she purposely tried to shield herself from the investigation by withholding documents.

"I want to make clear that the statement of alleged violations does not assert anywhere that I deliberately failed to produce documents in response to requests for information," she said. "I did not admit to this conduct, and I certainty do deny it."

Richardson did not apologize for her conduct, and after she spoke, Rep. Sanchez said the committee is already aware of her views, and indicated that the panel already refuted most of them in the report.

"The committee took those views very seriously, and they responded and refuted those points in its response to her views," Sanchez said.

Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Ill.), one of Richardson’s most ardent backers in her re-election race and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, made a brief set of remarks in support of the Richardson and the resolution.

“As a supporter and colleague of the subject of the investigation, I know that she regrets the violations and hopes that a reprimand by the House will allow both her and the House to move on to address the great issues facing the nation,” said Cleaver. 

— Jordy Yager contributed.

— This story was updated at 11:17 a.m.