The House Ethics Committee says it is opening its own investigation — sort of — into possible misconduct by indicted Rep. Michael Grimm, but that it won't get started right away.
"The Department of Justice has asked the committee to defer consideration of the matters in the investigative subcommittee's jurisdiction," said Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., in a joint statement Friday announcing the ethics inquiry.
When, and if, the House inquiry does ever begin, Conaway and Sanchez said they will themselves serve as the top two lawmakers on the investigative subpanel that has been already appointed by the committee.
The announcement of the Ethics Committee's action was not unexpected. If and when the investigative subcommittee does proceed with a probe — and the entire committee ultimately agrees with any finding of misconduct — punitive actions the House could take against Grimm, a Republican from Staten Island, range from a "letter of reproval" to a recommendation of expulsion, a decision that would require a full-blown Ethics Committee inquiry.
Grimm, 44, a former FBI agent, was indicted last month by federal prosecutors in New York on 20 counts of fraud, perjury, mail and wire fraud, and other charges tied to his Manhattan restaurant. Among accusations is that he tried to hide more than $1 million in revenue, and prosecutors also said he hired undocumented immigrants.
Grimm has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.
And for now, news of an impending House Ethics Committee investigation would appear to be one of the lesser legal worries facing Grimm.
In fact, Friday's announcement was essentially a formality. "Under the House Rules, today's routine announcement by the Committee on Ethics was fully expected," said Grimm's attorney, William McGinley.
That's because House rules require the committee to make a decision on whether to open such an investigation "not later than 30 days after a member of the House is indicted or otherwise formally charged with criminal conduct in any Federal, State or local court."
When it does proceed with an inquiry, the committee is responsible for investigating whether House members have violated the chamber's Code of Official Conduct or "any law, regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct" in the performance of their duties or the discharge of his responsibilities.
The announcement Friday said that joining Conaway and Sanchez on the investigative subpanel are Reps. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla. But the panel's work is being put off.
The Justice Department asked it to defer action, as federal prosecutors continue putting together their case. In response, Conaway and Sanchez said, "The Committee, following precedent, unanimously voted to recommend to the Investigative Subcommittee that it defer action on its investigation at this time."