Partisan Skirmish Breaks Out Over House Ethics Investigations

There's a reason why, unlike every committee in Congress, there are an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — known in shorthand as the House ethics committee.  It's to keep partisan divisions at a minimum.  It affords neither party an advantage when it comes to having members judging their fellow lawmakers.

So it was a bit of a jolt to see that all five Republicans on ethics released a statement today calling for a trial of two Democrats who are under an ethics cloud, Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.) to be held in October, before Congress departs for the midterm elections.  They claimed that Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee, was "stalling."

Expressing their frustration, the Republicans wrote, "It is in the best interests of the transparency and fairness to the American people, Representatives Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters, and other Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, that the House Ethics Committee stop stalling the resolution of the Rangel and Waters mattes and complete those public trials prior to the November elections. ... Members of the committee have repeatedly expressed their willingness and desire to move forward with public trials of these matters and have repeatedly made themselves available to the chairwoman for October settings."  But Lofgren, said ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama, "has repeatedly refused to set either the Rangel or Waters trial before the November election."

Rangel is accused of 13 violations of House rules, mostly having to do with his finances.  Waters is charged with helping a bank in which her husband had a financial interest receive federal aid.  Neither Democrat is in the slightest danger of losing their election.

There's no question that Democrats would love to avoid having Rangel and Waters stand trial before November, knowing that the GOP would love to remind voters of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 2006 pledge to "drain the swamp" if Democrats took control of the House.

The New York Times' Eric Lipton quotes a House Democratic aide of accusing the Republicans "of trying to score political points, as the negotiations for a possible October trial were still underway."

Lipton writes that "at a minimum, the exchange shows how political both of the trials will likely become—at whatever date the committee ultimately decides to start them."

The last time members of the committee got into a public spat, writes Politico's John Bresnahan & Jonathan Allen, was in 2005, when Republicans sought to replace chairman Joel Helfley (R-Colo.) following an investigation into the affairs of then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

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