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Direction Of Ethics Committee Unclear As GOP Takes Over House

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Recent months have been turbulent for the House Ethics Committee, with Bonner even ordering Capitol Police to block the doors of the Ethics Committee office for a week during a partisan dispute over the Waters case.

Staffers for the House Ethics Committee on Thursday were still getting settled into their new office located in the basement of the Longworth building, just around the corner from the district office of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Their new digs, marked with a new sign issued after officially changing their name from the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, looked to be in set-up mode on Thursday. Committee staffers made the move from the third floor of the same building earlier this month when the new Congress came in.

Committee Staff Assistant Brittany Bohren, the only person this reporter saw in the office besides a technician who appeared to be setting up cables, told me that there wasn't anyone available to speak with the press. She said all questions had to be phoned in, but a follow up call revealed nobody had the authority to speak to the press.

Richard Sauber, the lawyer representing both lawyers placed on indefinite administrative leave without explanation, told TPM that he hasn't yet heard from the Ethics Committee about the status of his two clients.

"I've heard nothing, I don't think the committee has bee reconstituted yet," Sauber said. "As far as I know, their status is the same. I'm just waiting to see what happens."

The current highest ranking person in the office is Kelle Strickland, according to committee staffer Donna Hayes, who answered the phone on Friday. Strickland didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is also having trouble convincing Democrats to remain on the full ethics committee, Susan Crabtree reports.

Crabtree also reported that Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Bonner are debating whether they should hire outside counsel to handle the Waters investigation (Lofgren is reportedly in favor, but Bonner doesn't think it is necessary).

Lofgren declined to speak with a TPM reporter on Thursday, citing back pain from lifting her suitcase in transit to D.C. She reportedly reluctantly agreed to remain on the panel, but asked Pelosi to replace her as soon as possible.

Bonner's spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Stan Brand, the lawyer representing Waters who has argued the case should be dropped.

Late Update: Brand told TPM that appointing an independent counsel was "a totally unnecessary and duplicative move." He said it would be an "added expense to the House, and an added expense to the Congresswoman" and added "there's no reason to do it." Brand also said he hadn't had any communication with the Ethics Committee since the GOP took over the House.