Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL) last month ordered the Capitol Police to block the doors of the ethics committee offices for a week during a partisan dispute over the handling of the ethics case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the Washington Post reported.
A Capitol Police officer guarded the door of the ethics committee offices during Thanksgiving week and about eight staffers were told not to come to work, sources told the Post last week. Reached by TPM, a spokesman in Bonner’s office declined to comment. Lofgren’s office referred all questions to the ethics committee, which has not offered comment.
Bonner, the committee’s ranking Republican, accused Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) of violating House rules at one point in the investigation and instructed that staff be barred from entering the office in the middle of a partisan dispute involving the Waters case, the newspaper reported.
Last week, Blake Chisam, the staff director and chief counsel of the House ethics committee who was chosen by Lofgren, told the House that he’d be stepping down from his position. That news came on top of the revelation that two ethics committee lawyers, Cindy Morgan Kim and Stacy Sovereign, were placed on administrative leave on Nov. 19 — the same day that the panel announced an indefinite delay of Waters trial. A lawyer for the women is on vacation, according to a secretary.
The new revelations are fueling speculation both about what will happen with the troubled ethics committee and questions about what will happen with the Waters case in the new Congress.
Stan Brand, a Washington lawyer representing Waters, said in an interview that he didn’t know anything about the turmoil beyond what he has read, but said he doesn’t think the case against his client should restart in the new Congress.
“To me, there’s significant legal and constitutional problems with that,” Brand told TPM. “We’ve written and briefed that issue. For now, I think it sufficient to say, when this Congress ends, it ends this Congress. Whether it can be restarted again, I don’t know.”
“I feel like she’s been cleared already,” Brand told TPM. “They brought a case, they refused to set a trial date. We asked for a trial date in September, we asked for a trial date in October, we asked for a trial date in November.”
Brand also said he still hasn’t been told why the two lawyers on the ethics committee were suspended.
Supporters of a shakeup on the committee have been joined by one of the committee’s own members. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), believes that the Waters case should not be considered by the current committee and wants an entirely new ethics committee named.
Melanie Sloan of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in a statement that the “American people need to have confidence that the members of the Ethics Committee are dedicated to keeping Congress honest. Instead, the committee is in utter turmoil, leaving it incapable of meeting its mission of upholding ethical conduct.”
“Under these circumstances, how can members or the public trust anything coming out of the committee?” Sloan said.
Sloan wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Speaker Designate John Boehner (R-OH) calling for the entire committee be replaced in the next Congress and for the investigation into the conduct of Waters to start again next year.
“The reason we did it, the more I was reading, we could never have confidence in the ultimate report,” Sloan told TPM.