Ethics panel closes Cony­ers probe; ‘slap on wrist’ crit­i­cized

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

The Repub­li­can-led House ethics com­mit­tee — in one of its last acts be­fore Democrats took over Congress — closed the three­year in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rep. John Cony­ers Jr. af­ter he agreed to stop us­ing staffers for cam­paign work and per­sonal er­rands.

Mr. Cony­ers, a Michi­gan Demo­crat, ac­knowl­edged a “lack of clar­ity” in his deal­ing with the tax­payer-fi­nanced staffers, who re­port­edly worked on po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns and per­formed other nonof­fi­cial jobs, in­clud­ing babysit­ting Mr. Cony­ers’ chil­dren and tu­tor­ing his wife.

The case against Mr. Cony­ers was closed with­out puni­tive ac­tion or a let­ter of re­proval from the Com­mit­tee on Stan­dards of Con­duct, the ethics panel, which is com­prised of five Democrats and five Repub­li­cans.

Some Repub­li­can law­mak­ers and con­gres­sional watch­dogs say the “slap on the wrist” for Mr. Cony­ers raises doubts about new ethics rules that Speaker-des­ig­nate Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, prom­ises for the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress that con­vened Jan. 4.

“It’s a slap on the wrist, but the fact that they did any­thing is a big deal for [the ethics com­mit­tee],” said Me­lanie Sloan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton.

She did not ex­pect the com­mit­tee to be any tougher un­der Demo­cratic con­trol.

“It is al­ways hard for the party in power to deal with con­gres­sional cor­rup­tion,” she said.

Last month, the ethics com­mit­tee de­cided not to take ac­tion against Rep. Jim McDer­mott, de­spite find­ing that the Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat broke ethics rules in 1997 by giv­ing re­porters il­le­gally taped tele­phone calls in­volv­ing House lead­ers.

A Repub­li­can law­maker familiar with both cases said Democrats on the com­mit­tee blocked puni­tive ac­tion against their col­leagues.

“It cer­tainly brings into ques­tion the Democrats be­ing strong on ethics,” said the law­maker, who did not want to be iden­ti­fied dis­cussing ethics cases. “In this case [against Mr. Cony­ers], they are clearly not will­ing to sanc­tion their own Demo­cratic mem­bers.”

Prom­ises of ethics re­forms were key to Demo­cratic wins in the midterm elec­tions that gave the party the ma­jor­ity in Congress, but eth­i­cal con­cerns have dogged House Democrats as they pre- pared to take lead­er­ship.

Mrs. Pelosi weath­ered crit­i­cism for back­ing Rep. John P. Murtha, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat, in his ill­fated run for ma­jor­ity leader. Mr. Murtha was tainted by in­volve­ment in the Ab­scam scan­dal of the early 1980s.

Rep. Alan B. Mol­lo­han, a West Vir­ginia Demo­crat who stepped down from the ethics com­mit­tee last year be­cause he was the tar­get of a fed­eral cor­rup­tion probe, is slated to head the sub­com­mit­tee that over­sees the Jus­tice De­part­ment bud­get.

Mrs. Pelosi did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment.


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