Pelosi: Ethics panel has power to investigate Cárdenas

Pelosi: Ethics panel has power to investigate Cárdenas
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump digs in amid uproar on zero tolerance policy Trump surprises with consumer agency pick On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump nominates budget official Kraninger for consumer chief | Senate votes to block Trump ZTE deal | Stocks fall on trade tensions | House panel moves to markup budget MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that the House Ethics Committee has the authority to investigate Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who is facing allegations that he sexually assaulted a minor more than a decade ago.

Ethics Committee rules state that the panel can consider episodes occurring only within the last three cycles, suggesting the allegations facing Cárdenas, based on an incident alleged to have happened in 2007, would be out of bounds.

But Pelosi, who spent years on the Ethics panel, said the committee has the “discretion” to reach back further than rules dictate. 

“There is some precedent for going back further,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “They have that discretion to decide.”

Cárdenas, a rising star in the party who chairs the Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm, is facing allegations that he sexually assaulted a teenage girl in 2007, when he was a member of the Los Angeles city council. The lawsuit alleging the assault was filed late last month in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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Cárdenas has fervently denied the charges, suggesting through a lawyer that they’re politically motivated.

He’s been reaching out to his fellow Democrats in a flurry of phone calls in which he has maintained his innocence and encouraged his colleagues not to rush to judgment. Democratic leaders have thus far heeded that message.

While Pelosi has asked for the resignation of other Democratic lawmakers facing harassment claims, she still backs Cárdenas’s request “to withhold judgement until there is a full investigation of the facts." 

But Pelosi is urging the Ethics panel to investigate the allegations.

That request has led to questions about whether the Ethics Committee has jurisdiction over an event said to have occurred 11 years ago — a timeframe that, panel rules suggest, would make the case too old for committee examination.

“The Committee shall not consider a complaint, nor shall any investigation be undertaken by the Committee, of any alleged violation which occurred before the third previous Congress unless the Committee determines that the alleged violation is directly related to an alleged violation which occurred in a more recent Congress,” the rules state.

No more recent allegations against Cárdenas have emerged. 

Still, Pelosi seems confident the Ethics Committee both has the power to probe the allegations, and would do so.

“Let’s see what the Ethics Committee has to say about it,” she said. 

“I served longer than anybody — seven years on the Ethics Committee. … I do believe that there is discretion for them to do this. So let them decide and then we’ll go from there.”

The Ethics Committee declined to comment on Wednesday.

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi, Dems hammer GOP for ‘derailing’ DACA debate Hoyer warns GOP: Don’t dabble with DACA compromise bill Dem House candidate gets pepper sprayed in the face in campaign ad MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip, has also weighed in on the Cárdenas allegations. Like Pelosi, he’s urged against pre-judgment, saying Cárdenas should keep his spot on the whip team while the claims are examined.

If the Ethics Committee lacks the jurisdiction, Hoyer said last week, another entity should take up the probe.

“If they're not, there are bodies that are available to do that. Because the allegation is not only of sexual harassment, but the allegations comprise a crime, and I think they warrant being investigated,” Hoyer said. 

“Mr. Cárdenas made it very clear to those of us who he has talked to that he has not committed the offenses that are alleged and that he will cooperate with whatever authorities are available to look at that.”