CREW: That Coconut Road Investigation Is Going Nowhere

All that bother today will amount to a whole lot of nothing, says Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s Executive Director Melanie Sloan:

“Clearly, something went seriously awry before the 2005 highway funding bill was sent to the president. The question now is the best way to find out how and why this occurred. It certainly appears as if Don Young (R-AK) snuck in the earmark in exchange for campaign contributions from Florida developer Daniel Aronoff. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is to be commended for insisting that the Senate address this matter. Nevertheless, in sending the matter over to the Department of Justice, the Senate has ignored the Speech or Debate clause, which prevents law enforcement from introducing legislative material (such as an earmark in a bill) as evidence against a lawmaker.

“In addition, while the Senate has called for an investigation, the House undoubtedly will do everything possible to stymie such an inquiry. The House takes an expansive view of the breadth of the Speech or Debate clause. Recently, for example, the House counsel’s office sought to quash a Justice Department subpoena issued to a former Appropriations committee staff member in connection with the criminal investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis’s (R-CA) earmarks. The House likely will assert the same arguments here.

Given this impediment to a criminal probe, Senator Coburn’s suggestion that a bicameral committee investigate the matter might have been more likely to reveal the facts, but sadly neither the House nor the Senate have a strong track record of policing and punishing the illegal or unethical conduct of their members. This situation perfectly illustrates why Congress needs an indepent ethics office — with subpoena power — to investigate members. The American public needs to have confidence that members of Congress are held accountable for their illegal and unethical conduct. Today’s vote is nothing more than Kabuki theater given the likely constitutional impediment to a Justice Department investigation.”