Ethics panel extends probe of Rep. Andrews

The House Ethics Committee on Friday announced it has extended its investigation into Rep. Rob Andrews over allegations that the New Jersey Democrat misused campaign funds to take private family trips.

The secretive panel also released a lengthy report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) detailing the allegations, including charges that Andrews tapped tens-of-thousands of dollars in campaign funds to cover a 2011 trip to a wedding in Scotland, as well as multiple visits the same year to Los Angeles with his daughters.

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Although Andrews has argued that the trips were political in nature – both the groom featured in the Scotland wedding and his daughters, he said, were volunteer campaign aides – the OCE alleges otherwise.

At the June 2011 Edinburgh wedding, the OCE said Andrews "engaged in no political activity, gave no political speeches, raised no campaign funds, and did not discuss his campaign with [the groom, Scott Street] or any member of Representative Andrews' campaign staff."

Surrounding the Los Angeles trips, the OCE found that "his daughters' airfare, meals, lodging, and other potential expenses were all paid for by his congressional campaign committee."

"Representative Andrews provided testimony that his daughters acted in a volunteer campaign staff role while there, a claim not supported by the evidence obtained," the 244-page OCE report added.

In April, OCE referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation, citing "substantial reason to believe that he improperly used congressional campaign and Leadership PAC funds for personal use."

"If Representative Andrews improperly used these funds for personal uses, then he may have violated House rules and federal law," the OCE said.

Last month, the House Ethics Committee extended an initial deadline to Aug. 31. The panel has given no indication when it will reach a final verdict.

Andrews on Friday issued a meek statement noting that the Ethics Committee "has reached no conclusion on this matter."

"As the Committee continues its review, the record will show that I have followed all rules and met all standards of the House," Andrews said. "As always, I will continue my focus every day — striving to solve the problems and address the issues that confront the people of South Jersey."

The remarks are a far cry from the combative statement he issued last month, when he called the ethics charges "categorically false."

“None of these accusations involve the use of taxpayer or government money," he said in a July 17 statement. "Our campaign's public disclosures show that every dollar of our campaign funds was properly spent and fully disclosed.”

Still, last November Andrews reimbursed his campaign committee and leadership PAC to the tune of $30,114.58, the OCE report reveals.

The OCE also alleges that Andrews declined to turn over campaign and Leadership PAC calendars between March 2008 and early February 2012.

Furthermore, OCE said, Andrews released credit card statements "with significant redactions" making it impossible for investigators to "asses what types of charges Representative Andrews or his wife consider to be personal in nature, and if these charges corresponded with dates reflecting bona fide campaign or political events."

The OCE recommended that the Ethics Committee subpoena Andrews for the missing information.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group, filed a separate Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint against Andrews last year when reports of the alleged misspending first surfaced in the New Jersey press.

Meantime, the 11-term Democrat is vowing to push on with his campaign for reelection.

"In the past few months, I have listened to and interacted with thousands of my constituents and I am humbled by and grateful for their support," he said in Friday's statement. "I am committed to continuing to work as hard as possible for the people of our community and nation."

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