The man at the center of a House ethics review involving Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is her own former press spokesman, who now serves as communications director for Rep. Raul Labrador.
At the heart of the ethics review is whether McMorris Rodgers broke House rules by using campaign funds to cover some of the costs of her internal GOP leadership race, something that former staffer Todd Winer, who left McMorris Rogers's office after the Washington state Republican won her leadership post in 2012, has alleged, sources say. Winer did not immediately return calls and an email Thursday.
"We're fully cooperating," said McMorris Rodgers, who narrowly defeated Rep. Tom Price to become the fourth-ranking Republican in the House. It was just last week that McMorris Rodgers grabbed a slice of the national spotlight when she gave the GOP response to the State of the Union Address.
McMorris Rodgers's lawyer and a spokesman also released prepared statements, vehemently denying Winer's allegations.
One source sympathetic to McMorris Rodgers, who did not want to be identified, said Winer was unhappy about not getting the job as the House Republican Conference communications director. The source claimed that he is known to have started shopping his allegations around to reporters and others last year.
After its look into the matter, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics recommended in December that the House Ethics Committee conduct a full review of the case. The committee is expected to announce Thursday that it will take another 45 days to review the matter.
"We are confident that every activity was compliant with all federal laws, House rules, and standards of conduct. We are fully cooperating and look forward to seeing this matter dismissed," Nate Hodson, a spokesman for McMorris Rodgers, said in a statement.
Elliot Berke, McMorris Rodgers's attorney, took a swipe at the Office of Congressional Ethics itself.
"As has become an unfortunate rite of passage for many members of Congress, the OCE regularly refers matters to the House Ethics Committee for further review. Such reviews are virtually automatic, and as the committee always points out, does not indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee," said Berke, who is with the law firm McGuire Woods.
He added, "The congresswoman and her office cooperated fully with the OCE during its inquiry and have already begun assisting the committee with its review. We are confident that the committee will ultimately find that the allegations were baseless and that her office always followed all laws, rules, and standards of conduct."
A spokeswoman for the OCE declined to comment.
According to the OCE's rules, to refer a matter to the Ethics Committee for further review, its board must conclude after evaluating all the evidence that there is "substantial reason to believe a violation has occurred."
Whether McMorris Rodgers and Labrador have talked about the matter, or Winer, is unclear. Price said Thursday he knew nothing about the investigation, which was first reported by Politico.
Sarah Mimms contributed to this article.
This article appears in the February 7, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.