Only In Washington: Ethics Questions Follow Ethics Chairman

Rep. Jo Bonner’s GOP primary challenger is trying to stir up some ethics trouble that could create more headaches for Bonner, the sitting chairman of the House Ethics Committee, not too far down the road.

Dean Young, a Republican candidate for Alabama’s 1st district, this week brought up a series of conflicts-of-interest questions that have followed Bonner since a botched Ethics Committee investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) last fall.In a letter to the Ethics Committee, Young called on Bonner to recuse himself from any oversight of his personal financial disclosure statement, according to a report on Young requested the recusal after allegations that Bonner improperly received investigative information from the committee’s probes of two lawmakers.

“Sadly, I do not have full confidence that Mr. Bonner will operate with the highest standards of integrity and impartiality,” Young wrote.

Criticism of Bonner focuses on charges that he improperly communicated with the two attorneys assigned to Waters’ case. According to a memo written by Blake Chisam, the former chief counsel of the panel, to then-Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Bonner and at least one Bonner aide who did not have the authority to access confidential panel materials received emails and other information from the two attorneys.

The attorneys also allegedly improperly communicated with Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the special panel overseeing the trial of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who later the House censured for a separate string of charges, according to Chisam’s memo. There are strict Ethics Committee rules preventing contact between the staff attorneys assigned to prosecute a case and the lawmakers who serve as the jury weighing the evidence.

In the wake of the internal Ethics Committee scandal, earlier this summer, the Ethics Committee hired a special prosecutor to handle the Waters case. As TPM reported at the time, the contract between the panel and Billy Martin, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, authorizes a payment of at least $50,000 and a maximum of $500,000 and gives Martin a deadline of Jan. 2, 2012 to finish his review. But it also says Bonner can cancel the contract at anytime.

That would all seem quite normal, except of course, part of Martin’s job is to investigate Bonner and other Republicans’ alleged role in the prosecutorial abuse and unprofessional behavior involved in the Waters’ case.