Document reveals dozens of ethics probes under way

More than 30 House lawmakers are under scrutiny by the ethics committee, according to a document leaked through a file-sharing network.

The Washington Post reported Thursday evening that the confidential ethics document was accidentally placed on a publicly-accessible computer network by a low-level staffer on the House ethics committee.

The staffer has since been fired and Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the panel’s chairwoman, and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), its ranking Republican, have since apologized for the breach and have tried to assure members of Congress and their staff named in the document that they are not necessarily under investigation by the ethics committee, according to two reports in the Washington Post.

The document reveals that seven members of the defense appropriations subcommittee are being looked at because of their connections to the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group, The Washington Post reported. 

The members have steered federal earmarks to the firm’s clients and received tens of thousands of campaign contributions from PMA Group employees and their clients.

The lawmakers under scrutiny include Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, as well as Reps. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), James Moran (D-Va.), Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), Bill Young (R-Fla.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), according to the report in the Post.

The report also discusses the corporate sponsorship of a trip Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and several other lawmakers took to the Caribbean.

The document did not mention the larger investigation into Rangel’s personal finances and allegations of tax and financial disclosure violations, but indicates Rangel was interviewed about his trip to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

It also shows that the ethics committee authorized subpoenas to the Justice Department, the National Security Agency and the FBI for information about Rep. Jane Harman’s (D-Calif.) 2005 conversation with an Israeli operative who was trying to win leniency for two pro-Israel lobbyists in exchange for help in obtaining support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to name her chairman of the House intelligence committee, according to the report in the Post.

The document said the Justice Department had asked the panel to suspend an investigation of Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the Post report said. That move could suggest a continued Justice probe.

Lofgren and Bonner in floor speeches Thursday evening said a cyber attack on the House ethics committee had resulted in the July document ending up in the hands of a reporter.

The 22-page "Committee on Standards Weekly Summary Report" gives brief summaries of ethics panel investigations of the conduct of 19 lawmakers and a few staff members and outlines the work of the new Office of Congressional Ethics, a quasi-independent body that initiates investigations and provides recommendations to the ethics committee, the Post reported.

When they made the breach public Thursday night, Logren and Bonner suggested the document was the committee’s weekly report, which they said contains all the calls the panel has received from member offices that week. They also sought to allay the fears of members that the Washington Post has contacted. The mere appearance of a member’s name on the report should not be viewed as an indication that they are in any ethics trouble, the two said.

“I regret to report that there was a cyber hacking incident of a confidential document of the committee,” Lofgren said on the House floor Thursday evening. “A number of members have been contacted by the Washington Post that is in possession of the document.”

Lofgren also tried to assuage fears about what material the hacker gleaned, stating that the committee might have a newspaper article about a particular member in its possession but that does not mean the member is under investigation.

“We understand that the computer system of the committee is secure, that at any one time as the ranking member has said, dozens of members' names are on our weekly report and no inference should be made to any incorrect behavior on the part of those members, and we wanted to make sure that the body knew and public knew,” Lofgren added.

Bonner called the compromised report an isolated incident that “to our knowledge has only occurred once.” He also emphasized that the security system for the committee had not been breached, and echoed Lofgren’s remarks a members name in the document hardly translates into an investigation.

“For instance, when a colleague calls and asks about whether they can take a trip, their name would appear on this weekly report that the chair and member receive,” he said.  “That doesn't mean they are doing anything other than following the rules of the house as to whether they should take that trip and if it's permissible.”

This story was updated at 9:39 a.m.