House Ethics Committee vs. Justice Department:


On Wednesday, the House Ethics Committee announced that it was launching two probes into lawmakers and a third probe wide-ranging probe into possible violations by staffers and other lawmakers in the Duke Cunningham scandal. However, these probes may interfere with the current investigations that the FBI and Department of Justice Public Integrity Unit have underway. The Washington Post looks at whether the Ethics Committee is too late to the game:

The Justice Department has traditionally opposed such parallel inquiries by congressional committees for fear that lawmakers might complicate its collection of testimony and information. The Senate’s ethics panel, for instance, regularly steps aside when another enforcement agency is looking into the behavior of senators.

But House officials indicated yesterday that they hope the continuing conversations between the Justice Department and the ethics committee will avert conflicts. A spokesman for the department declined to comment.

It is doubtful that the Justice Department is happy about this development. Previously, Justice had asked the House and Senate Ethics Committees to steer clear of any investagtion relating to Jack Abramoff. The House’s investigation into Bob Ney, who is alleged to have accepted things of value from Abramoff in exchange for favorable action, clearly goes against Justice’s recommendations. A March article in Roll Call notes that the ethics committee’s rule 15(f) states that the committee “may defer action on a complaint against a Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives when the complaint alleges conduct that the Committee has reason to believe is being reviewed by appropriate law enforcement or regulatory authorities, or when the Committee determines that it is appropriate for the conduct alleged in the complaint to be reviewed initially by law enforcement or regulatory authorities.” An expert interviewed in the Post article states, “I can’t imagine that they will pursue subpoenas and testimony and get in the way of the Justice Department; that hasn’t happened in the past.”