By Jordy Yager - 03/21/13 09:00 AM EDT
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is standing behind Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) despite calls for the veteran lawmaker to relinquish his leadership post while he is investigated on ethics charges.
Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership, including Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), backed Andrews on Wednesday as he battles charges of using campaign funds for family trips.
The full-throated endorsement of Andrews has riled some Democrats who see an egregious double standard at play.
A chief of staff for a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who asked not to be identified said Democratic leaders minced no words when black lawmakers — including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) — were caught up in ethics probes.
The staffer said Pelosi should insist that Andrews step aside as co-chairman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee — a post she awarded him last year as the Ethics panel was conducting a preliminary probe of the allegations — until the formal investigation is complete.
More from The Hill:
♦ FDA: No 'iPhone tax' from Obama healthcare law
♦ Senators fear drones 'buzzing overhead'
♦ Graham to press House GOP to subpoena Benghazi survivors
♦ Senate stops military from cutting tuition assistance
♦ Obama promises probe into Syria chemical weapons use
♦ US oil production set to surpass imports
♦ Biden: White House 'still pushing' for assault weapons ban
“It bears notice that Pelosi appointed Mr. Andrews to a leadership position in the midst of this investigation,” the Democratic staff member said. “That is in direct contrast to the approach taken with similarly situated members of the Black Caucus, who routinely faced pressure to step away from leadership posts during investigations.
“Her commitment to fairness will be tested in how she responds to this announcement.”
A spokesman for Pelosi said she has no plans to ask Andrews to step down.
Andrews has maintained his innocence and says the charges against him are “politically motivated.” He said the Ethics Committee investigation that was announced on Tuesday would exonerate him.
“This review will confirm that I have always followed the rules and met all the standards of the House,” Andrews said in a statement. “I will eagerly provide answers to any questions the committee has. In the meantime, I will continue to work as hard as I can and serve my constituents and our country as a member and in any other capacity in which I am chosen to serve.”
The Ethics panel is notoriously slow-footed with its investigations — it could be months before the review of Andrews is complete.
That creates a headache for Pelosi, who famously vowed to “drain the swamp” of corruption when Democrats won the House in 2006.
Three years ago, Rangel ceded to a growing chorus of Democratic and Republican calls for him to relinquish the House Ways and Means Committee gavel after being admonished in an ethics investigation. Rangel was eventually censured for failing to pay income taxes and for violating fundraising rules.
But Rangel, who believes the Ethics Committee treated him unfairly, told The Hill he has no ill will toward Andrews.
“Just because I don’t think I was treated fairly doesn’t mean I’m interested in seeing someone else be mistreated,” Rangel said.
A senior Democratic aide, speaking on background, noted that Rangel was asked to step down from the Ways and Means panel only after being admonished for violating House rules by accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.
In the Andrews matter, the aide said, the ethics investigation has just begun, and no verdict of guilt or innocence has been reached.
Caucus leader Becerra sang Andrews’s praises on Wednesday, calling him a “phenomenal member.”
It appeared to be business as usual for Andrews on Wednesday.
He took to the House floor to defend the party’s budget, and his Rayburn Office doors stood wide open, with no reporters or cameramen stationed outside — a far cry from the mob scene that greeted New Jersey colleague Sen. Robert Menendez when separate ethics allegations against him gained attention.
In 2012, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) released a report charging Andrews with tapping tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to pay for a 2011 trip to a wedding in Scotland and multiple jaunts to Los Angeles with his daughters.
The OCE is an outside panel made up of former lawmakers and legal experts. It referred the case to the House Ethics Committee last year, citing “substantial reason to believe that he improperly used congressional campaign and Leadership PAC funds for personal use.”
Andrews has argued the trips were political because the groom in the Scotland wedding and his daughters were volunteer campaign aides.
OCE sharply disagreed, stating that the House Democrat “engaged in no political activity, gave no political speeches, raised no campaign funds and did not discuss his campaign.”
The OCE, which does not have subpoena power, also said Andrews failed to provide investigators with his congressional and campaign calendars and supplied credit card statements “after making significant redactions.”
Andrews is being represented in the ethics probe by the Brand Law Group, which is led by Stan Brand, a former House general counsel and well-known D.C. ethics attorney.
On Wednesday, Andrews’s Republican challenger in the last election cycle, Greg Horton, told The Hill that the 22-year lawmaker should step down from his Steering and Policy Committee post, and should resign from Congress altogether if the ethics probe finds him guilty.
— Mike Lillis contributed to this report.