House Ethics panel hires more counsels

The House Ethics Committee announced Tuesday that it has hired six new counsels and internally appointed four additional counsels.

The news comes more than seven months after the secretive committee placed two senior counsels on administrative leave and had its chief counsel and staff director step down.

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Last week The Hill reported the staff delays had contributed to the committee’s inability to carry out its congressionally mandated duties, which include issuing a report on the role Democratic leaders played in sexual harassment allegations made against former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).

Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) said the 10 new appointments will allow the panel to push forward with its business.

“After months of interviewing, I am excited to finally fill out the committee team and am confident that our nonpartisan staff will support — with integrity and without bias — the committee’s important service to each member, officer and staffer of the House,” he said in a statement.

“These changes will enable the committee to move forward with its duties.”

The House Ethics Committee has lost eight staff members since the end of last year, according to a cross-referencing of the staff listings on the committee’s website and a list of the committee’s salary records – as catalogued on the Legistorm website.

The staff losses cut the committee’s ranks by more than one-third, as it shrank from 23 staff members to 15.

The six new hires, in addition to Schwager and another interim hire brings the committee's staff level back up to 23.

Amid vehement disagreements late last year between then-Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking member Bonner about how to proceed with a case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the committee has been consumed with reorganizing its inner ranks. Waters is accused of helping to secure federal funding for a bank in which her husband owned stock. She has maintained her innocence throughout the process and has called on the committee to notify her about how it intends to proceed in the wake of the stalled investigation.

Two months ago, after four months without a staff head, the committee hired Dan Schwager as its staff director and chief counsel.

“It has been a top priority to fill the many counsel vacancies on the committee staff as soon as possible,” said the committee’s ranking Democrat, Linda Sanchez (Calif.), in a statement.

“Since we hired an exceptional staff director and chief counsel last month, the chairman and I have worked extensively with him to identify outstanding candidates to serve on the committee’s nonpartisan staff. Each of these talented attorneys is uniquely qualified, and I am confident in their ability to help the committee proceed with its important work.”

The committee announced that it has hired Deborah Mayer to be director of investigations. Mayer formerly worked in the Justice Department’s criminal division with the public integrity section. Before that, she was a prosecutor for five years with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York.

After nine years with the committee, Carol Dixon was appointed to serve as the panel’s director of advice and education, and will be in charge of providing ethics training to members and staff as well as answering their questions about the House Code of Official Conduct.

Also slated to start work in the next several weeks are a new senior counsel and two new counsels on the investigations team, as well as two new counsels with the advice and education staff. Appointed from within the committee were a senior counsel to the committee’s financial disclosure office, a senior counsel to the advice and education section and a senior counsel to the investigations team.