Pols Brace For Probes After House Ethics Panel Staffs Up

The House Ethics Committee has hired six new staffers, ending a nearly seven-month period when the panel suffered an exodus of aides and investigative functions were at a standstill, the House Ethics Committee said in a statement Tuesday.

The hirings complete the staff roster and come one month after the committee unanimously tapped Daniel Schwager, a former counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee, as its staff director.Both Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), who chairs the panel, and its ranking member, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), heralded the hires and said they were gratified that the committee could finally be operating at full tilt.

“After months of interviewing, I am excited to finally fill out the Committee team, and I am confident that our nonpartisan staff will support — with integrity and without bias — the Committee’s important service to each member, officer and staffer of the House,” Bonner said in the panel’s release. “These changes will enable the committee to move forward with its duties.”

Sanchez said the panel worked with Schwager to identify qualified candidates and called it a top priority to “fill the many counsel vacancies.”

“Each one of these talented attorneys is uniquely qualified, and I am confident in their ability to help the committee proceed with its important work,” she said.

Here are the hires:

Deborah Mayer, director of investigations

Mayer spent three years at the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and five years with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. She also served as a Navy judge advocate and is a reserve officer.

Carol Dixon, director of advice and education

Dixon is a nine-year veteran of the Ethics Committee and is the panel’s longest serving counsel. She will provide training and guidance regarding the House Code of Official Conduct and others areas of the committee’s jurisdiction.

Miguel Toruno, senior counsel

Toruno served as a senior integrity officer for the Inter-American Development Bank, where he conducted investigations of fraud and corruption related to activities financed by the bank. He began his career as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office for the County of New York.

Robert Eskridge, counsel

Eskridge has served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Ohio for four years.

Patrick McMullen, counsel

McMullen has been an associate in the litigation and financial services practice in the D.C office of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

Tamar Nedzar, education staff and counsel

Nedzar has worked for six years for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, where she was acting deputy general counsel.

Christopher Tate, investigative staff and counsel

Tate has served as an associate specializing in white collar criminal defense and environmental litigation at the D.C. office of K&L Gates LLP.

In addition, Heather Jones has been promoted from within to the job of senior counsel for the financial disclosure office; Tom Rust is now senior counsel in advice and education; and Clifford Stoddard is now a senior counsel in investigations.

Now that that the committee if fully staffed, it can finally determine how to proceed in the case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), and whether she improperly intervened on behalf of a minority-owned bank in which her husband owns stock. The committee also must decide how to handle new charges against Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA), who has been most recently accused of forcing her staff to do personal and campaign work.

The ethics panel charged Waters with violating House rules last year, but she has vigorously fought the allegations, arguing that she was simply advocating on behalf of all minority-owned banks.

The case has become so thorny that some members and aides have argued for appointing a special counsel to handle the case after a tumultuous year that ended with the lead ethics committee attorney and an assistant on the case being placed on administrative leave over allegations that they mishandled parts of the investigation. The pair have since left the ethics committee.

Shortly after the attorneys were placed on leave, Blake Chisam, who had served as the staff director, announced his impending departure. Partisan tensions on the committee had flared so much at the time that during the week of Thanksgiving, Bonner, then the ranking Republican, had the Capitol Police lock the doors and bar anyone from entering and leaving the panel’s offices.

Since then, the committee had struggled to find a qualified candidates for the staff director, as a key counsels after aides left in droves. Bonner and Sanchez have said they had received more than 400 resumes for the vacant counsel positions on the committee.