Eric Pianin, The Fiscal Times
Jan. 9, 2017
After congressional ethics experts, voters, and President-elect Donald Trump forced House Republicans to back down last week from a rules change that would have eviscerated the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, one important sentence quietly slipped through another rule change.
That sentence enables individual members to hide official documents that could prove embarrassing or even incriminating if they were suddenly investigated by the ethics office or the Justice Department for criminal activity.
The new rule states that records created, generated or received by the congressional office of a House member “are exclusively the personal property of the individual member” and that the member “has control over such records,” according to a report by OpenSecrets.org.
While the rule change might seem relatively benign on the surface, it has severe and troubling implications for future ethical oversight and investigations of members of Congress as the Republicans fully take charge of Congress and the White House.
“Why on earth would Congress now create barriers to investigation and subpoenas of a member’s spending records?” she added. “This only benefits the incumbent politicians who passed this rule and those who would flout it, not the system and certainly not the public.
Congressional Republicans have long complained of what they consider an overly aggressive ethics office and probes that deny them due process. Had the new rule been in effect before, federal prosecutors likely would have had a much harder time making a case against former Illinois Republican House member Aaron Schock, a one-time rising star who was forced to resign in the wake of revelations of lavish government spending. That spending included a $40,000 “Downton Abbey”-style redecoration of his Capitol Hill office, complete with a $5,000 chandelier.