Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Congress cannot police itself

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That’s been obvious for generations, but the Ensign case is the current blatant exhibition of bad behavior that Congress seems happy to accept. Susan Crabtree writes at TPM Muckraker:

The Senate Ethics Committee’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation into activities surrounding Sen. John Ensign’s (R-NV) affair with a political staffer is raising age-old questions about the panel’s relevancy.

Members of Congress are the first to admit that they hate serving on the Ethics Committee, and policing their peers puts them in an unusually awkward position. If that’s the case and the panel has to farm out its work to true professional investigators, then why have lawmakers investigating their colleagues misbehavior in the first place?

The Ensign case is particularly troubling because the investigation was well underway last year, and Ensign staffers had testified to the panel that Ensign and his senior aides knew they were breaking the one-year lobbying ban when they helped
a former staffer set up a short-lived career on K Street, as The Hill reported last June.

In fact, at least one Ensign aide told the Ethics Committee that Ensign and Hampton were so bold about the lobbying job that the pair ate lunch together at least once in the Senate dining room, according to The Hill.

The information was provided as part of the panel’s probe into payments Ensign’s parents made to Cynthia and Douglas Hampton. Ensign was having an affair with Cynthia, who is married to Douglas.

Both worked for Ensign, and Douglas Hampton was a close political aide. Ensign’s parents paid the Hamptons $96,000 once they left the senator’s employment. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the ethics panel, charging Ensign with paying the Hamptons hush money.

Ensign admitted to the affair in June 2009 but has denied any wrongdoing. He cites the December decision by the Justice Department to abandon its criminal investigation and the Federal Election Commission’s decision to drop a probe into whether payments to the Hamptons violated campaign rules.

Watchdogs are not convinced. The Justice Department’s public integrity section, which is charged with investigating allegations against members of Congress, has been gutted, and the FEC has long been known as a paper tiger that very rarely takes aggressive action against members, they contend.

Ensign’s case is exhibit A for why Congress should hand all authority to investigate serious allegations against members of Congress over to an independent ethics office equipped with attorneys who specialize in white-collar crime, argues Public Citizen’s Craig Holman. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2011 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

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