Richardson guilty, says House Ethics panel

The House Ethics Committee issued a blistering report on Wednesday finding Rep. Laura Richardson guilty of improperly pressuring her official staff to campaign for her, destroying evidence and tampering with witness testimony.

In an unusually scathing 16-page report, the Ethics panel depicted the California Democrat as acting with “utter disdain” for the secretive committee, which Richardson has accused of evincing racist overtones in its investigation of black members. 

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The Ethics Committee recommended that the House adopt its report and approve a formal reprimand of Richardson, who agreed to pay a fine of $10,000 within four months and require staffers who work on her campaign to sign a waiver stating that they haven’t been pressured to do so. 

The punishment comes just three months before Richardson faces off against fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn (Calif.) in one of the toughest member-versus-member elections this year. 

Many of Richardson’s staffers painted a “horrendous picture” when speaking of their employment experience, which was fraught with “attempts to intimidate them on a regular basis,” according to the committee’s report, issued by Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.). 

A 22-page objection that Richardson recently delivered to the committee, in which she contends that the Ethics Committee acted in a prejudicial manner against her, was also made public on Wednesday. 

In it, Richardson said she agreed to resolve the ethics allegations with a fine and a reprimand, because the alternative — an adjudicatory hearing, also known as an ethics trial — would waste taxpayer dollars and take up too much time. 

But the panel rebuffed her submission, stating that her arguments were “without merit,” lacked remorse and were pointless because she had already admitted to her wrongdoings. “Richardson’s views weave an elaborate fabrication out of threads of decontextualized evidence and outright prevarication, in an absurd attempt to rebut the majority of the tremendous evidence against her,” the report states. 

“[Richardson’s statement of views conveys] an utter absence of true remorse for her misuse of official resources and, equally as significant, for what she has put her staff through, as well as a near-total deflection of responsibility for this matter.” 

Richardson argued that investigators with the committee “improperly influenced witnesses” by suggesting that an investigative subcommittee was likely, even though it was one year before that decision would eventually be reached. 

This “clearly [signaled] that the Ethics Committee staff at least already believed that Rep. Richardson was guilty of misconduct,” stated Richardson in her response to the committee’s charges. 

The Richardson ethics probe began in 2010 when several of her official staffers complained to the committee that they were being forced to work on her campaign. After probing the matter for more than a year, an investigative subcommittee was launched in November 2011, to look more seriously at the charges. 

In one instance, Richardson’s communications director, Makeda Scott, told the committee that she took comments her boss made “as a threat.” Richardson allegedly told Scott that she felt “uncomfortable” working with her because Scott hadn’t volunteered on Richardson’s campaign. 

“If you don’t volunteer on my campaign, you are not going to continue working here; that is how I took it,” said Scott in an interview with the Ethics panel. 

After delaying her interview with the committee because of the timing of her primary race, Richardson finally agreed to sit down with panel investigators in June and answer their questions. 

But Richardson soon began complaining about how long the interview was taking and “ultimately demanded that it end so she could participate in an annual congressional softball game,” according to the report. Richardson never rescheduled a follow-up interview with the committee. 

In the past, Richardson has claimed she has been singled out for violating House rules by misusing official resources, while other lawmakers frequently abuse their privileges without so much as a slap on the wrist. 

She has pointed to members who sleep in their Capitol Hill offices as an example. Some have worried privately that she might try to expose other possible ethics violations among her colleagues, especially if she loses to Hahn again in the general election. 

Hahn beat Richardson by 19.6 percentage points in the June “jungle” primary, where the top two vote-getters advance to the general election. The three-term Richardson has garnered the support of much of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

Hahn has largely resisted using Richardson’s ethics investigation as political ammunition in the tough race, and on Wednesday said that voters will make their own choices based on the committee’s report.

“The report speaks for itself,” said Hahn in a statement. “Ultimately the House will vote and voters here in the district will make their own judgments.”

Richardson attracted headlines in the last Congress when the Ethics Committee cleared her of wrongdoing on the sale of her foreclosed home. Richardson has defaulted on three homes, but was deemed by the Ethics panel to be a victim of mortgage fraud.

The committee on Wednesday also issued public letters of reproval for Richardson’s chief of staff, Shirley Cooks, and deputy district director Daysha Austin.