So here we are. Tonight, the House Democrats voted to strip Rep. Bill Jefferson of his seat on the House Ways & Means Committee. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pushed very hard for this. And it's created a lot of controversy and tension within the Democratic caucus. If you're interested in some of the backstory and play-by-play, see Paul Kiel's on-going coverage.
A couple months ago, a conservative research group scrutinized Rep. Allan Mollohan, Democratic Co-Chair of the House Ethics committee and found a troubling pattern of Mollohan getting earmarks for West Virginians with whom he also had made real estate investments. Shortly afterward, Pelosi forced Mollohan to step down from the Ethics Committee. The Mollohan case is qualitatively different from the Jefferson case. But it was the right decision to ask him to step aside.
Now, isn't it time we detect a pattern here?
How many Republican representatives and senators are currently under investigation? Probably a dozen, easily.
And what about Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee?
Appropriations is the committee that spends the money. It's probably, by definition, the most corruptable committee in the House. Internestingly, Lewis was the Chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee when Duke Cunningham was getting all that loot for Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. As Chair of that subcommittee, Lewis had to sign off on all that stuff. Perhaps he was just oblivious to what was happening, though according to a knowledgable source, Brent Wilkes says Lewis and he have been tight for years. Presumably investigators are looking into this.
Two of Lewis's key staffers -- one current (Jeffrey Shockey), one now working as a lobbyist (Letitia White) -- are also being investigated.
Lewis is closely tied with lobbyist Bill Lowery, who's also under investigation as part of the expanded Cunningham probe.
A week ago, a former defense contractor came forward to say that in exchange for a multimillion dollar earmark, Lewis demanded that the defense contractor not only hire Lowery as his lobbyist but also cut Lowery in for stock options in his company.
(For details on the Lewis investigation, see TPMmuckraker.com's excellent coveragehere).
For Chairman Lewis, though, it's business as usual. As far as I know, the fact that he's at the center of a criminal probe that began with the investigation of Duke Cunningham hasn't put the future of Lewis' chairmanship in any doubt at all. It's all business as usual. Yesterday, the President called Lewis to thank him for moving another spending bill through the House. "I called Chairman Lewis this morning to congratulate him on getting a good supplemental out of the House of Representatives," said the President at his press conference yesterday. "It's a supplemental that meets our numbers, and meets the requirements for a good bill."
Has anyone seen a talking head, an editorial page, anyone suggesting it may not be appropriate for Rep. Lewis to be in charge of House earmarks while all this is going on? If you have, let me know.