House Ethics Report Leaked

The Washington Post reported Friday that it has obtained an internal document outlining ethics investigations of 30 members of Congress. The paper said the document was leaked by accident, and that it contains details about the ethics investigations of several high-ranking lawmakers.

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Some political shockwaves on Capitol Hill today. The Washington Post says that it has an internal document outlining ethics investigations of more than 30 members of Congress. The newspaper says the document was made public by accident, and that it contains details about the ethics probes of several high-ranking lawmakers and including an investigation into earmarks for military contractors. But the Post has not released the actual document that it says it has. And the whole incident is creating a stir on Capitol Hill.

As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: The normal hubbub of a House floor vote was interrupted last night by this announcement from Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren.

Representative ZOE LOFGREN (Democrat, California; Chairwoman, Ethics Committee): I regret to report that there was a cyber-hacking incident of a confidential document of the committee.

SEABROOK: Lofgren seemed anxious to get the word out about the leak before the Washington Post published the names of lawmakers listed in the document. Lofgren told the entire House of Representatives that the committee routinely investigates allegations all the time.

Rep. LOFGREN: Anything from the stray newspaper article to a comment involving members of staff, to make sure that there is nothing serious. And in the course of doing that, no inference should be made as to any member.

SEABROOK: Shortly thereafter, the Post published a front-page story on its Web site and then this morning, a banner story under the headline, Dozens in Congress Under Ethics Inquiry. It says the document lists investigations into allegations that include improper defense lobbying and corporate-influence peddling. And it names a few lawmakers who were apparently being looked at by the Ethics Committee when the document was written back in July. Over the course of today, more details trickled onto the paper's Web site, including that many of those investigations were already publicly known. And at least five other probes had found no wrongdoing and were shut down. Still, the paper has not released the actual document. Here's why, according to a lead writer on the story, Carol Leonnig.

Ms. CAROL LEONNIG (Staff Writer, Washington Post): We've had a lot of discussions with the paper about the sensitivity of this material. We're treating it very carefully and the material involved and the reporting - we're doing a lot of thorough reporting before we just slap something up in the paper or on the Web site.

SEABROOK: In a live chat session for Post readers today, Leonnig was repeatedly asked for the list of 30 names under investigation. One person asked: Will you publish the report you are getting this information from so that the public can judge for themselves? When asked why the paper would publish a banner story but then hold back the document because of its sensitivity, Leonnig said keep watching the Post Web site. And then she said journalism has changed a lot in the past two decades.

Ms. LEONNIG: We are posting information on our Web site early in the morning, breaking news there sometimes. We are sometimes concluding that, for competitive reason or for other reasons, it's important to tell a story soon and the Web site actually gives us the ability to do that.

SEABROOK: The Post promises more details soon.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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