Dems decline to rush Fattah’s departure

Greg Nash

Rep. Chaka Fattah offered his resignation from Congress on Wednesday, but the embattled Pennsylvania Democrat intends to remain a member — and collect a salary — for several more months. 

In a resignation letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sent just a day after Fattah was convicted of 23 corruption-related charges, Fattah cited a series of legislative accomplishments apparently designed to bolster the case for keeping his seat until his Oct. 4 sentencing. 

{mosads}”Despite my resignation, I am working to clear my name of these charges and plan to mount an appeal,” Fattah wrote. 

Ryan wasted no time hammering the timeline, calling for Fattah’s immediate resignation and urging Democratic leaders to do the same. 

“Mr. Fattah has betrayed the trust of this institution and the people of Pennsylvania, and for that he should resign immediately from the House of Representatives,” Ryan said in a statement. “We must hold members to the highest ethical standard and I hope that Democratic leaders will join me in seeking his immediate resignation.”

In a later statement, Fattah said he is working to set a timeline that would bring the fewest “distractions” to Congress.

“This date was selected in order to provide enough time to ensure the proper transmission of information and archiving of government documents after more than two decades in service,” he said. “With that said, in further consultation with House Leadership, we are working to identify an agreeable timeframe which will relieve the House of any distractions in carrying out the people’s business.”

Fattah’s conviction by a Philadelphia jury Tuesday had put Democratic leaders in a tough spot, caught between defending their colleague and his accomplishments while distancing themselves from the wrongdoing that could land him decades in prison. In interviews conducted before his resignation letter, most Democrats opted simply not to comment at all, and none called for his resignation. 

CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he’s been praying for Fattah and his family, but demurred when asked if he should step down.  

“I have no opinion, no comment on that,” Butterfield said.

Other CBC members also steered clear of urging their colleague to resign.

“I’ll let the process run its course,” said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas).

“That’s up to him,” echoed Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the news was “heartbreaking,” praising Fattah as “a great member” on issues related to children, education and urban renewal. Speaking to reporters just hours before Fattah’s resignation letter went public, Pelosi suggested she knew it was coming. 

“I’ll just say that I think that we’ll be hearing something soon,” Pelosi said.

No matter when Fattah actually steps down, the 11-term Democrat won’t be returning next year. Fattah in April became the first incumbent lawmaker to lose a primary this year. 

Fattah is expected to be succeeded by Democratic state Rep. Dwight Evans, who would also potentially become a new member of the CBC in the next Congress.

Fattah is vowing to appeal the charges ahead of the sentencing on Oct. 4, yet the severity of the case has raised questions of whether he should stay in Congress another day.  

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an ethics watchdog group, is making the case for Fattah’s immediate resignation. 

“The conviction of Rep. Fattah highlights another sad example of the kind of ethical failure we should never see from Congress. Fattah used his office for his own personal gain, as well as that of his friends and family.  He should resign from Congress immediately,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. 

Fattah’s convictions are a headache for the Democrats for another reason: The party’s presidential convention is being hosted in Fattah’s hometown of Philadelphia. 

It’s unclear if Fattah will still serve as a superdelegate for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the event. Fattah’s office did not respond to queries from The Hill on Wednesday about his convention plans.

House rules don’t explicitly say that members should resign their posts if convicted of felonies, meaning lawmakers can only step down of their own volition. 

However, Fattah will no longer be eligible for a federal pension due to a 2007 law that rescinds the benefit if a lawmaker is convicted of corruption or other misconduct that “directly relates” to their official duties.

Fattah is far from wealthy, according to his financial disclosure forms.

On a form filed in May, he listed only two assets, a 401(k) and a retirement account from the Pennsylvania employee retirement system, along with four mortgages considered liabilities. Subtracting his minimum assets from his minimum liabilities resulted in a minimum 2015 net worth of negative $700,003.

Other members of Congress recently charged with crimes have largely established a precedent of resigning.

Ex-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) stepped down from his post a week after he pleaded guilty to tax fraud in December 2014. 

And in 2013, former Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) took two months to resign after he pleaded guilty in a D.C. court to possessing cocaine. 

Yet others, such as Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), have stayed in office despite criminal charges. Menendez was charged with 14 counts of corruption last April, yet he has only relinquished his position as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

Fattah similarly stepped down from his post as the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department after he was indicted last year.


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