Ethics office losing staff director

Leo Wise, the staff director of the House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), is leaving to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

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Wise served as the first staff director of the OCE, which was created in 2008 to help burnish the House’s tarnished ethics process. The office, the first independent entity with the power to police members’ actions, has had a turbulent first two years as lawmakers complained about the OCE’s increased scrutiny of their activities.

“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” Wise said in a statement. “It was an honor to help build the OCE and lead it through its first Congress.”

The two leading members of the OCE’s board lamented Wise’s leaving and commended him for his service and hard work in establishing the new layer of ethics scrutiny.

“Leo has done an extraordinary job in ‘standing up' and managing OCE operations during its first two years,” David Skaggs, chairman of the OCE board and a former Democratic congressman from Colorado said in a written statement. “The Board is very grateful to him for his exemplary service in the House and to the country. He’ll be missed.”

“Leo assembled a highly qualified team and led their work according to the highest professional standards,” said Porter Goss, OCE Board co-chairman and former Republican congressman from Florida. “The Justice Department is fortunate to get him back.”

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called Wise’s departure a “significant loss for the OCE.”

“While both the House and Senate ethics committees routinely have turned a blind eye to the misconduct of members of Congress, under Leo’s leadership the OCE — in a manner never anticipated by many of those who voted for its creation — aggressively embraced the idea that members of the House should adhere to the code of conduct they themselves created,” she said. “It is for exactly this reason that many members are pushing to see the OCE shut down or, at the very least, declawed. Given the precarious status of the OCE, it is no surprise that its excellent lawyers are seeking other employment.”

Sloan also called on leaders from both parties to demonstrate their commitment to holding members to the highest ethical standards by pledging to support the office in its current form in the new Congress.

“Leo Wise did a terrific job under difficult circumstances and the OCE’s loss is the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s gain,” she added.

Before joining the OCE, Wise served as a counsel to the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department. He was a member of the Enron Task force that prosecuted Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and the Tobacco Litigation Team that prosecuted the civil racketeering case against the cigarette industry. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Johns Hopkins University.

The OCE Board will soon meet to name an acting staff director and chief counsel, according to the announcement about Wise’s departure.

For months members’ have complained about the OCE’s aggressive investigative tactics, and some have vowed to dismantle the office or scale back its powers. Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeFederal employees turn their backs on Agriculture secretary after relocation plans announced Federal employees turn their backs on Agriculture secretary after relocation plans announced Lawmakers clash after Dem reads letter on House floor calling Trump supporters 'racist,' 'dumb' MORE (D-Ohio), joined by 19 other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, introduced a resolution in June that would reconfigure the OCE and curtail its ability to launch investigations and inform the public of its findings.

Some political observers also have accused the OCE of targeting CBC members more aggressively than other members because eight black members, including prominent Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.), were under investigation at one point earlier this year. The office has defended its investigation, arguing that all are based only on facts surrounding the cases. The office has investigated more than 60 cases in its two years, referring 12 to the full ethics committee for further review.

-- This story was updated at 1:37 p.m., 2:18 p.m., and 2:27 p.m.