House Republican Leaders Neuter Ethics Committee, Making an Independent Ethics Agency Necessary

Feb. 16, 2005

House Republican Leaders Neuter Ethics Committee, Making an Independent Ethics Agency Necessary

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

Republican leaders continue to plunge the U.S. House of Representatives into a crisis of credibility.

After purging the House ethics committee of members who dared scold House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for his disregard of ethics rules, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the new chair of the committee, a devout party loyalist, has just committed his first act as “ethics chief”: firing the two top ethics committee staff members who were instrumental in writing the rebukes against DeLay.

Ethics committee staff director John Vargo and chief counsel Paul Lewis have been given their walking papers. The decision smacks of retribution.

Hastings joined Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) – two major contributors to DeLay’s legal defense fund – in a Republican shake-up of the ethics committee engineered by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and DeLay. They replaced Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Kenny Hulsof (R-Mo.) who had all voted to rebuke DeLay and did not support repeal of the “DeLay rule,” which requires the majority leader to relinquish his leadership post if under criminal indictment.

The firings of the ethics committee members and committee staff who took their ethics jobs seriously completes the Republican leadership’s drive to neuter the House ethics process.

The actions prove that effective ethics enforcement cannot be entrusted to members of Congress policing themselves. Public Citizen calls upon Congress to earn America’s trust by establishing an independent ethics agency to monitor and enforce compliance by Congress with the laws of the land.

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