Category Archives: ethics investigations

“Ethics Investigators in Congress Increasingly Run Into Walls”

NYT:

In 2009 and 2010 — the first Congress scrutinized by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was created in 2008 — three lawmakers refused to cooperate with the office’s 68 investigations, a noncooperation rate of just 4 percent.

This year, six out of 14 House lawmakers under investigation have refused to participate — a rate of 43 percent, the highest on record.

Mr. Ashmawy said he believed the higher noncooperation rate was a result of investigators focusing on fewer cases, and more potentially serious ones. Lawmakers who may be glad to meet with ethics investigators to clear up an honest mistake or minor oversight are more reluctant to cooperate if they think they may face weightier consequences, he said.

There is no requirement that lawmakers cooperate with the Office of Congressional Ethics, but legislators who do so often are able to resolve what had appeared to be violations of ethics rules.

The fact that many will no longer even meet with ethics investigators reflects a troubling trend in American politics in which improper behavior is no longer a political liability, ethics experts say.

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“Trial of High-Powered Lawyer Gregory Craig Exposes Seamy Side of Washington’s Elite”

NYT:

It is a trial tailor-made to grab the attention of this city’s power brokers: In a federal courtroom this month, one of Washington’s most prominent lawyers — a former White House counsel and attorney to global statesmen and other icons — is battling criminal charges of lying to investigators about his work for a shady foreign client.


But the most riveting aspect of the case against the lawyer, Gregory B. Craig, is not his innocence or guilt. Rather, it is the depiction of the seamy world of power brokers like Mr. Craig that prosecutors have painted during nearly two weeks of testimony and in an array of court filings.
Mr. Craig’s trial has supplanted any image of Washington’s elite as sage Brahmins with a vivid picture of the ruling class at its avaricious worst.

The details include a $4 million payment shunted through a secret offshore account to Mr. Craig’s law firm, a backdated invoice, a lying publicist, a scheme to net one player’s daughter a cushy job and a bungled wiretap by a suspected Russian intelligence asset nicknamed “the angry midget.”
Taken together, they illustrate how lawyers, lobbyists and public relations specialists leapt onto slippery ethical slopes to cash in on a foreign government’s hopes of papering over its sordid reputation.

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New volume of the Harvard Law & Policy Review is out

Chock full of election-law goodies.  Among other pieces:

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“Trump Is Urged to Fire Kellyanne Conway for Hatch Act Violations”

NYT:

An independent government agency recommended on Thursday that President Trump fire Kellyanne Conway, his White House counselor, for repeated violations of an ethics law barring partisan politics from the federal workplace.
In a letter accompanying a report to Mr. Trump, the agency called Ms. Conway a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in campaign politics at work, saying that her flagrant defiance of the law justified her dismissal from the White House.
“As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” said the letter to the president, signed by Henry J. Kerner, the head of the agency. “Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”

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Acting AG Whitaker May Have Violated Hatch Act for Taking Campaign Contribution While a DOJ Official; and May Know Identity of Undisclosed Donors Paying Him $1.2 Million Salary as Talking Head

NYT:

Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general, was paid more than $1.2 million in the past few years by a group active in conservative politics that does not reveal its donors, according to financial disclosure statements released Tuesday and other documents.

The disclosure raised questions about who Mr. Whitaker’s financial patrons had been before he joined the Justice Department last year and whether he might have any undisclosed conflicts of interest. And it highlighted the prominence of so-called dark money groups that pursue political agendas and employ members of both parties without being required to make public the source of their funding.

Mr. Whitaker worked for nearly four years as the executive director of the group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, also known as FACT, before being tapped as chief of staff for Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, in September 2017. Mr. Whitaker became acting attorney general this month after Mr. Sessions was forced out….

The group provided the overwhelming majority of his income since at least 2016, according to the fi\

Mr. Whitaker also faced new questions on Tuesday about donations to his unsuccessful 2014 campaign for a United States Senate seat in Iowa. Mr. Whitaker’s campaign committee received four donations totaling $8,800 this year, a few months after he joined the Justice Department, records show.

Executive branch officials are generally prohibited by a federal law, the Hatch Act, from knowingly soliciting or accepting campaign donations….

“I don’t see Matt Whitaker ever playing the role of anybody’s bag man or errand boy,” Mr. Gustoff said. He said that Mr. Whitaker “might possibly” know the identities of FACT’s donors, but added that Mr. Whitaker “would do what he thinks is right regardless of whether somebody funded an activity he was involved in or not.”

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“Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez is ‘severely admonished’ by Ethics Committee, ordered to repay gifts”

WaPo:

The Senate Ethics Committee said Thursday that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who avoided conviction in a federal corruption trial last year, violated federal law and Senate rules in accepting unreported gifts from a friend and political ally whom Menendez used his office to assist.

In a four-page “letter of admonition,” the six members of the panel ordered Menendez to pay back the gifts he received from Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, and said that he is “hereby severely admonished.”

“Your assistance to Dr. Melgen under these circumstances demonstrated poor judgment, and it risked undermining the public’s confidence in the Senate,” the letter reads. “As such, your actions reflected discredit upon the Senate.”

The Ethics Committee findings complete a winding, six-year saga that saw Menendez accused of corrupt dealings to benefit a political donor, Melgen, only to see his prosecution end in a mistrial last November after 10 weeks in court.

After the mistrial, most jurors told reporters that they believed Menendez had not committed the crimes that federal prosecutors alleged and a grand jury had charged him with. On Jan. 31, a judge dismissed all charges against Menendez after prosecutors decided not to pursue a second trial.

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“Postal Service broke law in pushing time off for workers to campaign for Clinton, investigation finds”

WaPo:

The U.S. Postal Service engaged in widespread violations of federal law by pressuring managers to approve letter carriers’ taking time off last fall to campaign for Hillary Clinton and other union-backed Democrats, investigators said Wednesday.

High-level postal officials had for years granted employees’ requests for unpaid leave, leading last year to an “institutional bias” in favor of Clinton and other Democrats endorsed by the National Association of Letter Carriers, one of the largest postal unions. The Postal Service’s Office of Special Counsel and inspector general found that the agency violated the Hatch Act, which restricts federal employees from working for or against a political candidate or party during election season.

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“Federal ethics chief who clashed with White House announces he will step down”

WaPo:

n an interview, Shaub said he was not leaving under pressure, adding that no one in the White House or the administration pushed him to leave. But the ethics chief said he felt that he had reached the limit of what he could achieve in this administration, within the current ethics framework.

“It’s clear that there isn’t more I could accomplish,” he said.

 Shaub is set to take a new job as senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group founded by Trevor Potter, who served as a Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission. Shaub said he hopes to find bipartisan solutions to strengthening government ethics programs at the federal and state levels.
Big question: Assuming the Trump Administration wants someone credible in that office (big assumption), who would take it?
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