Reporter Breaks New CBC Ethics Scandal

Todd Gillman recently reported that Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson inappropriately directed Congressional Black Caucus scholarship funds to her relatives. Gillman discusses his report and responds to the Texas democrat's suggestion that he was motivated by personal animus.

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TONY COX, host:

We turn next to one of the two journalists who broke this story. You may have heard Congresswoman Johnson refer to him. He is Todd Gillman, the Washington bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, joining me here in studio in Washington. Todd, nice to have you.

Mr. TODD GILLMAN (Bureau chief, Dallas Morning News): Great to be here with you, Tony.

COX: Your reaction to what the congresswoman had to say, generally.

Mr. GILLMAN: Generally. Well, she has said in the past day in a number of interviews that she is not blaming anybody. And yet, on one of those interviews, on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," she, in fact, excuse me; she, in fact, did blame her chief of staff. She said it that it was his responsibility for overseeing these rules and making sure that they were enforced. That's the first time that she had made that line of defense. She's had, by my count, at least a half dozen lines of defense since we have started reporting this story about a week and a half ago.

COX: Well, now she has taken responsibility. Does that bring it to an end or is there reason or is there evidence to suggest that there is potentially other wrongdoing that needs to be investigated involving her?

Mr. GILLMAN: Well, I certainly don't have any evidence of other wrongdoing involving her because if we had that, as journalists, that would be our responsibility to put that on the record. I will say that there are a number of questions that have not been answered yet and have not - we have not gotten an opportunity to pose these questions to her.

She has ceased taking my calls. She's obviously is, as you and your listeners all just heard, she's rather annoyed with me, as one might be after a reporter has written about something that has erupted into a national kerfuffle.

COX: By the way, is this personal?

Mr. GILLMAN: It's certainly not personal for me. If I got information across the transom about any congressperson who had selected their own relatives for scholarships, we would report that out and put it in the paper. I will say, I can understand where maybe she and I got off on the wrong foot.

The very first thing that I remember writing about her about 15 years ago, maybe a little less, as a local political reporter in Dallas was, I went to go cover a televised town hall thing that she did, a public TV station program that she did every week. And it was just, I thought it was just going to be an ordinary congressperson takes questions kind of thing.

I don't even know if she remembers this specific thing, but I do because it was my very first column. And nobody showed up except for her aides, who then proceeded to act as if they were members of the general public, call in as if they were members of the general public. And I called them out on it in that column. So we did get off on maybe a bad foot.

COX: She suggested that you have a politically right leanings. I don't know if you want to respond to that.

Mr. GILLMAN: I've never heard that allegation. And if you talk, Texas is a very Republican state generally. And if you talk to conservative Republicans, many of them might say something opposite. I suspect that means that I am doing the right thing.

COX: Here's the last question for you. The Congressional Black Caucus has had a number of its members under ethics investigations of one sort or another and there are calls for potentially another ethics investigation involving Congresswoman Johnson. From your position in the media, there are those who suggest that maybe the caucus is being targeted. Do you think that there's any accuracy to this?

Mr. GILLMAN: It's impossible for me to tell. I know that there is a line of argument out there that because so many members of the Black Caucus are very senior members from safe districts, politicians of any stripe from safe districts tend to get lolled into a sense of entitlement or security, and then maybe take shortcuts. That's an argument that I have heard.

COX: Okay.

Mr. GILLMAN: It's hard for me to believe that in this case she's being targeted because she's a black member of Congress.

COX: I've got about 10 seconds for you to answer this. Is this going to impact her race at all, do you think?

Mr. GILLMAN: It's an incredibly safe Democratic district. But I have to tell you, the public in Dallas is in an absolute uproar. The comments that we're getting at the newspaper are running at least eight or nine to one against her. They feel that she has been very dishonest, very misleading and very self-serving in providing these scholarships to her relatives and those of her aide.

COX: I appreciate the time that you came in and talked with us, Todd.

Todd Gillman is the Washington bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. He was one of the two journalists who broke the story about the scandal involving Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. Again, thank you very much for coming in.

Mr. GILLMAN: Good to be here.

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