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Ex-staffer accuses GOP leader of intimidation

Ex-staffer accuses GOP leader of intimidation
© Greg Nash

The former communications director for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said Monday that the House Ethics Committee is probing whether her office intimidated and punished him for cooperating with the committee. 

The Ethics Committee does not comment on inquiries and McMorris Rodgers' lawyer said the new allegations are “frivolous.”

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“We are sorry to see more frivolous allegations and information from the same source,” attorney Elliot Berke said. “From the beginning the Congresswoman and her staff have fully cooperated with the Ethics Committee and will continue to do so should it have more questions.”

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics earlier this year found there was substantial reason to believe that McMorris Rodgers, the Republican conference chairwoman, misused and mixed official office resources during her campaign and leadership election. 

The OCE referred the case to the Ethics Committee, which announced in March that it was extending its review. 

If the assertions made by former staffer Todd Winer are true, it would mean the Ethics Committee is expanding its inquiry into the fourth-ranking Republican in the House. 

McMorris Rodgers’s lawyer has previously argued that Winer was the one who was principally guilty of using official resources to conduct campaign activity. At the time, the lawyer described his behavior as “dark and twisted.”

Winer, in a long statement sent to reporters, predicted the committee would form an investigative subcommittee after the elections. He said he has met with the committee three times, most recently last week. 

“The Ethics Committee investigation is expanding,” he said. “I can confirm for the first time that the Ethics Committee is investigating CMR’s efforts to intimidate and punish me for my cooperation with the OCE and the committee.”

It is the first time Winer, who previously worked for Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), has spoken publicly about the ethics inquiry. He previously had declined to comment.

“Since these lies were manufactured and then proactively distributed to the media with the purpose of damaging my reputation and my career, they rise to the level of defamation,” he wrote. 

Winer said he had information “on good authority” that the committee warned the congresswoman about “slandering” or exposing a cooperative witness. 

Separately, Winer said the committee is “extremely focused” on the fact that there are no leave forms that are required when official staffers do campaign work.  

“[The congresswoman's] brass said it was because those forms were ‘lost in the move.’  However, every…employee knows those forms are submitted electronically – and thus, they can’t be 'lost in a move,’” Winer said.