House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Tuesday morning released a statement attempting to downplay the vote by House Republicans on Monday night to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics.
“After eight years of operation, many members believe the Office of Congressional Ethics is in need of reform to protect due process and ensure it is operating according to its stated mission. I want to make clear that this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the Office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress,” Ryan said in a statement.
The House Republican Conference on Monday night passed changes to the way the Office of Congressional Ethics operates. The rules place the office under oversight of the House Ethics Committee and prevent the office staff from making statements separate from the House Ethics Committee. The rules changes also keep the office from investigating anonymous tips or referring probes to a prosecutor without permission from the House Ethics Committee.
In his statement Ryan stressed that the Office of Congressional Ethics will remain an independent body and will not be controlled by the House Ethics Committee.
“The Office will continue to be governed by a bipartisan independent outside board with ultimate decision-making authority. The Office is still expected to take in complaints of wrongdoing from the public. It will still investigate them thoroughly and independently. And the outside board will still decide whether or not evidence exists to warrant a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee. With the amendment adopted last night, the bipartisan, evenly-divided House Ethics Committee will now have oversight of the complaints office,” Ryan said.
“But the Office is not controlled by the Committee, and I expect that oversight authority to be exercised solely to ensure the Office is properly following its rules and laws, just as any government entity should,” he continued. “I have made clear to the new Chair of the House Ethics Committee that it is not to interfere with the Office’s investigations or prevent it from doing its job. All members of Congress are required to earn the public’s trust every single day, and this House will hold members accountable to the people.”
Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) initially opposed the rules changes and reportedly spoke out against them in the conference meeting.
President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday morning knocked House Republicans for starting the year by making changes to the ethics office rather than focusing on other policy issues.