WASHINGTON (AP) — The Office of Congressional Ethics won a reprieve Tuesday, after House Republicans reversed course and dropped plans to gut the independent panel following a public outcry and criticism from President-elect Donald Trump.
At least six lawmakers remain under investigation following complaints initially reviewed by the OCE, including Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth highest-ranking House Republican.
Other ongoing investigations target Republican Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Roger Williams of Texas and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, as well as Democratic Reps. Bobby Rush and Luis Gutierrez, both of Illinois.
Created in 2008, the ethics office is a nonpartisan entity that reviews allegations of misconduct against House members, officers and staff, and makes recommendation to the House Ethics Committee. In most cases, the OCE report and findings must be publicly released.
The ethics office said Tuesday it has conducted 172 preliminary reviews and referred 68 cases to the House ethics panel for further action since it began operations in 2009. Thirty-nine cases were dismissed after a full review and dozens more were dropped early in the process.
The ethics office is governed by an eight-person board of directors that includes several former members of Congress. No current lawmaker is allowed on the board. Former Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., serves as the panel's acting chair.
Some highlights of OCE investigations:
— Azberbaijan investigation. The panel spent months investigating a 2013 trip to Azerbaijan by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and staff that was paid for by that country's government. Congressional rules generally bar foreign governments from paying for travel by members of Congress or otherwise trying to influence U.S. policy.
Ten lawmakers and 32 staffers attended a May 2013 conference in the capital city of Baku, near the Caspian Sea. Lawmakers said after the investigation was made public in 2015 that they had no idea the trip was paid for by Azerbaijan's government. The House Ethics Committee ultimately cleared the lawmakers, saying most had obtained prior approval for the trip from the ethics panel in good faith and did not know that two groups that claimed to sponsor the trip had apparently lied about the true source of their funding.
— Former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla. The ethics office reported last April that Grayson likely violated federal law and broke House rules in a number of business and legal activities and in managing his congressional office.
The allegations against Grayson, who lost a bid for the Senate last year, centered on a hedge fund he started when he was outside Congress and legal work done by others for which Grayson may have been paid while he was in office. Grayson also faced allegations that he used his official congressional staff for purposes unrelated to his congressional work.
He denied wrongdoing, calling the allegations against him politically motivated and frivolous. The House ethics panel extended its investigation last year, but the matter was not concluded before Grayson left office on Tuesday.
— Former Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga. The ethics office found in 2010 that there was "substantial reason to believe" that Deal, now Georgia' governor, violated House ethics rules. The inquiry involved Deal's ownership of a lucrative automobile salvage business; he attended meetings between the company and state officials who were considering revamping an inspection program. Deal said he attended the meetings in his capacity as a public servant.
The OCE found numerous potential ethics violations, but Deal resigned before any action was taken by the House. Deal was elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
—Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. The ethics office said Waters likely violated House ethics rules when she contacted the Treasury Department in 2008 to set up a meeting on behalf of top executives from a bank her husband owns stock in. The House ethics panel cleared Waters in 2012 after an investigation that dragged on for more than three years and devolved into partisan squabbles and allegations of racism. Waters is African-American.
—Former Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. The ethics office said Berkley may have violated House rules by advocating for a kidney transplant program that faced possible loss of Medicare approval. Berkley's husband, a doctor, directed medical services for the hospital that ran the kidney program. Berkley lost a 2012 Senate bid as the ethics allegations swirled. The House Ethics Committee later said she had violated House rules.