McDermott broke 'spirit' of rules but faces no punishment

The House ethics committee found that Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D-Wash.) 1997 leaking of a secretly taped phone call to the media among House Republican leaders, including current Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), is “inconsistent with the spirit of the applicable [House] rules.” The panel, however, did not punish McDermott.

The panel released the final report yesterday; it had been investigating the matter for more than two years.

It also found that McDermott’s actions in leaking the contents of the December, 1996 call “represented a failure on his part to meet his obligations as Ranking Minority Member of the House Select Committee on Ethics.”

In 1997, McDermott was ranking member of the House Select Committee on Ethics, and the contents of the call, which included strategies for dealing with an ethics case against Gingrich, was obtained illegally by a couple using a scanner.

Rule 9 of the ethics committee prohibits disclosure by a member of “any evidence relating to an investigation to any person or organization outside the Committee unless authorized the Committee.”

“Representative McDermott’s secretive disclosure to the news media as to the alleged conduct of Representative Gingrich risked undermining the ethics process regarding that member,” the report states.

The committee further found that McDermott’s excuse for the leak, namely that the public had the right to be informed, did not hold water.

“This is not a justification for potentially undermining the House ethics process,” the report concluded.

Boehner sued McDermott over the matter and earlier this year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruled against McDermott and ordered him to pay $60,000 in legal fees and cover Boehner’s attorney fees.

McDermott is fighting the case on First Amendment grounds.