House Republicans decided to keep the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) in order to avoid political attacks from their opponents, the chairman of the House Ethics panel said Sunday. 

Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) claimed in an interview that the majority of lawmakers would vote to disband the controversial OCE, which was created in 2008 by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But Bonner said that getting rid of the office would make the House GOP look weak on ethics.

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"If [Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' Cheney on Trump going to GOP retreat in Florida: 'I haven't invited him' Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' MORE (R-Ohio)] had disbanded OCE, he would have instantly become the target of criticism, from both the far left and the far right, that he was not serious when he said that we were going to have zero tolerance on ethical violations,” Bonner told the Mobile Press-Register

Bonner's comments provide rare insight into the House GOP's BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' Cheney on Trump going to GOP retreat in Florida: 'I haven't invited him' Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' MORE-will-keep-controversial-ethics-office-" href="http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/134767-report-boehner-will-keep-controversial-ethics-office-">choice to maintain the OCE, which has been the butt of criticism from some lawmakers. 

Boehner and the GOP transition team decided in December to keep the OCE, "with no changes made to its structure," even though House Republicans widely opposed its creation. 

But Republicans have already come under attack over their "zero tolerance" pledge due to a state investigation into the finances of freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.). Boehner has said he is waiting for the probe to take its course before offering further comment on the matter.

The OCE is an eight-member panel of bipartisan private citizens that reviews cases and has the power to recommend investigations to the Ethics Committee, which is staffed by members of Congress. But the OCE's investigations are largely confidential, which had prompted criticism from those who say it needs a more open process. 

It also has broader authority than the House Ethics Committee to start investigations of members of Congress. Some Republican lawmakers, especially those who have been investigated by the panel, have vocally criticized the office.

A spokesman for the OCE, Jon Steinman, did not directly comment to the Press-Register about Bonner's statement.

"We’re doing the job Congress asked us to do," he said. "We were created and began in the 111th Congress, when Democrats were elected to the House, and we’ve been reauthorized in the 112th, when Republicans are running the House."

Bonner said that given the chance on a secret ballot, Congress would do away with the office since members on both sides have "buyer's remorse."

"If there were a secret ballot vote, I think OCE would be a thing of the past, and I think it would be overwhelming," he said. 

But the Alabama Republican, who was previously the ranking member of the Ethics panel, pledged to work with the group since in his new capacity as committee chairman. 

“I voted against creating it, because I didn’t think it was necessary, but the fact is that we have OCE, and I’m now committed to working to try to build a more functional relationship with OCE,” he said.