In a secret vote held behind closed doors Monday night, House Republicans voted to cripple the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body created in 2008 to rein in corruption and other misconduct by members of Congress.
The move was spearheaded “by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years,” according to Politico. Among those speaking in favor of the changes were Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who was accused by a staffer of sexual harassment, and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), who allegedly received “an impermissible gift when he and his wife traveled to Taiwan in October 2011.”
Under the new rules, the Office of Congressional Ethics would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and, critically, lose its independence. It would be placed under the auspices of the House Ethics Committee, which famously has turned a blind eye to wrongdoing by members of Congress. It became clear that an independent body was necessary after scandals largely ignored by the the Ethics Committee sent several members of Congress, including Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Bob Ney, to jail.
Many of the new restrictions on the body appear designed to make it easier to sweep misconduct under the rug.
The new Office of Congressional Complaint Review cannot make any of its findings public — or make any other public statement — without the approval of the House Ethics Committee.
Even if the Office of Congressional Complaint Review finds evidence of criminal conduct, it cannot report it to the police without prior approval.
The rules also prohibit the new office from considering anonymous complaints or investigating any conduct that occurred before 2011.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi immediately blasted the proposed rules, declaring that “ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.” Her sentiments were echoed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
And now the @HouseGOP is gutting its ethics office in the middle of the night – hours before the new Congress is sworn in.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 3, 2017
The rules were pushed by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte.
Rules amdt approved by House GOP strengthens Office of Cong Ethics & improves upon due process rights. Does nothing to impede OCE’s work.
— Bob Goodlatte (@RepGoodlatte) January 3, 2017
The move was reportedly opposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and others in the Congressional leadership. President-elect Trump ran on a promise to “drain the swamp.”
The House leadership will get a chance to prove their opposition Tuesday, when a public vote on a rules package that includes the changes to ethics oversight will occur on the House floor.