House Ethics Office Investigates Rep. Schmidt’s Ties To Turkish-American Interest Group

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The Office of Congressional Ethics is looking into the legal assistance that Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) is allegedly receiving from a Turkish-American interest group, according to a report in Roll Call.

Bruce Fein, an attorney for Schmidt, told the Capitol Hill newspaper that he is responding to an OCE request but would not say whether or how Schmidt is paying for his legal services.The OCE is an independent board made up of mainly former members of Congress that reviews allegations against lawmakers and makes recommendations to the full House Ethics Committee for further action.

Fein is an attorney with the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and a resident scholar at the Turkish Coalition of America.

OCE investigations are supposed to be kept secret unless the Ethics Committee opens a formal inquiry based on the office’s recommendations. Often times, however, in the course of investigating complaints filed against members, outside organizations and people are contacted who do not have any obligation to keep the matter private.

Democrat David Krikorian, who has tried to challenge Schmidt’s hold on the seat, has filed several complaints with the OCE, maintaining that Schmidt improperly received free legal services from the TCA and its legal defense fund in violation of House rules.

Schmidt, through a spokesman, has denied any wrongdoing. She set up a legal defense fund in July so she could accept contributions to help her pay her legal bills associated with the ethics investigation.

Schmidt and Krikorian are bitter political adversaries who have challenged each other before the Ohio Elections Commission, the Ohio courts and the U.S. district court, Roll Call’s Jennifer Yachnin reported.

Fein was a former counsel to Congress in the Iran-Contra probe and a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration.

The crux of Krikorian’s complaint takes issue with whether Fein is being paid to represent Schmidt. It points to a statement Schmidt’s Ohio-based attorney Donald Brey wrote in making a request to allow Fein to appear in an Ohio court on Schmidt’s behalf. In the statement, according to Roll Call, Brey says the Turkish Coalition of America is funding Fein’s legal fees associated with representing Schmidt.

A member may accept pro bono legal services in limited circumstances, such as when filing friend-of-the-court briefs of civil actions challenging the validity of a federal law or regulations.