Leaked House Ethics Doc: Less Than Meets The Eye?

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The cable news networks have jumped all over the ethics document leaked to the Washington Post showing that over 30 members of Congress have been subjects of “inquiries” by the House ethics committee.

And the Post is having fun dissecting the weekly ethics summary report from July, publishing a new round of stories this morning looking at specific cases highlighted in the document.

But nearly all of the new stories show that the members in question were cleared of wrongdoing, and it’s worth asking how much new information has really come to light.There are a few new details on the probes of Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV). And the document also reveals the committee is looking at at least seven members in connection with now-defunct lobbying firm PMA.

We’ve long known that authorities are investigating whether PMA exchanged campaign contributions for earmarks, and we knew that at least three of those seven members — John Murtha (D-PA), Pete Visclosky (D-IN), and Jim Moran (D-VA) — had ties to PMA.

And then there are the two new investigations of Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Laura Richardson (D-CA) that were publicly announced by the panel yesterday. (We’ll be digging into these two cases, as well as the PMA matter.)

But, as the Washington Independent‘s Mike Lillis points out, not much else is new here. The much-bandied about “over 30 lawmakers under scrutiny” figure — which, admittedly, we too highlighted earlier — may not mean much.

Here’s video of the ethics panel chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and ranking member Jo Bonner (R-AL) providing some context on the floor of the House last night:

Lofgren notes: “The chair and ranking member are permitted — indeed, obliged — to explore extraneous matters that come to our attention — anything from a stray newspaper article to a comment involving members or staff — to make sure that there is nothing serious. And in the course of doing that, no inference should be made as to any member.”

And Bonner adds: “When a colleague calls and asks about whether they can take a trip, their name would appear on this weekly report.”

That’s not to apologize for a committee that has a well-earned reputation for fecklessness. But it’s important to keep in mind that the document does not contain a host of new evidence of ethical misconduct.

Here are the Post stories on Joe Barton (R-TX), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Sam Graves (R-MO), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA).

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