GOP seizing on the leak of ethics probe details

Republicans are seizing on the leak of a document showing that dozens of lawmakers are under investigation as proof that Democrats are not living up to their pledge to run the most ethical Congress in history.

More than 30 House lawmakers are under scrutiny by either the House ethics committee, the new Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) or both. The Washington Post reported Thursday evening that a low-level staffer on the ethics panel accidentally placed the confidential ethics document on a publicly accessible computer network.

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All but two lawmakers named in the document and identified in media reports so far are Democrats. Even though two of their own were implicated in the report, Republicans on Capitol Hill believe the document breach and its contents show that the ethics tide has turned in their favor against Democrats.

Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) spokesman Michael Steel said the fact that so many Democrats are under investigation yet have faced no punishment is proof that the Democrats are not taking their ethics pledges seriously.

“Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leaders have fallen woefully short of their election-year promises to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington,” Steel said. “Leader Boehner has said that he will hold Republican members to a higher standard, and he has. At a time when the American people are more engaged than ever — and more concerned about the Washington Democrats' unprecedented taxing, spending and borrowing binge — they will take note.”

Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office has not yet commented for this story.

Other Republican offices were more cautious, declining to comment on any part of the controversy surrounding the leaked document because two Republicans are named in it, and several others still face serious ethics scrutiny.

One of the most revealing parts of the document shows that seven members of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee are being looked at because of their connections to the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group. Those lawmakers under scrutiny include Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the Defense subcommittee, as well as Reps. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Bill Young (R-Fla.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), according to the report in The Washington Post.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) used the negative publicity to renew his call to House leaders to remove all earmarks going to former clients of the PMA Group from the defense-spending bill.

Flake sent a letter to Pelosi, Boehner and Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.) and Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, respectively, asking them to “take immediate action to protect the dignity of the House of Representatives” and jettison those earmarks.

“It defies logic that the House would move ahead with no-bid contracts to former clients of the PMA Group at the same time the ethics committee is investigating the PMA scandal,” Flake said in a statement.

Over the course of this year, Congressman Flake has offered eight privileged resolutions instructing the House ethics committee to investigate the relationship between earmarks going to clients of the PMA Group and PMA-related campaign contributions. The House has voted to table each resolution.

Each time Flake has offered the resolution, more Democrats defected to support it. Under that pressure, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered his own resolution calling on the ethics committee to disclose whether it was investigating the PMA matter, which passed the House in June. The ethics committee subsequently publicly acknowledged that it had launched a probe.

“The appropriations process this year moved forward as if the issue did not exist, including more than 70 no-bid contracts for former clients of PMA, worth nearly $200 million, in the form of earmarks tucked into the defense appropriations bill,” Flake wrote in the letter. “The circumstances surrounding how the ethics committee information came to light are unfortunate; however, the emerging details relative to the scope of the investigation represent an important opportunity for the House to act.”