An independent ethics watchdog panel says two key figures did not cooperate fully with its investigation into whether House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers breached the chamber's standards of conduct in her successful 2012 GOP leadership race.
On Monday, the House Ethics Committee announced it will continue weighing the accusations against McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking woman among House Republicans, a potential rough patch for a lawmaker widely regarded as a rising political star.
As part of its announcement, the committee released a report compiled by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which conducted an initial review, that provides new insight into the case.
At the heart of the matter is whether McMorris Rodgers, of Washington state, violated an obscure House rule against commingling campaign and taxpayer-funded resources when she won the chairman's job in a close race against Rep. Tom Price of Georgia. The case is based largely on accusations from McMorris Rodgers's former press secretary, Todd Winer, who now works in the office of Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican.
Elliot Berke, an attorney for McMorris Rodgers, played down the Ethics Committee's decision to look further into the case. "As the record shows, the Congresswoman and all other staff members complied with all laws, House Rules and Standards of Conduct," he said in a statement. In addition, a written response to the OCE report notes: "The congresswoman and her staff cooperated fully with all requested interviews and the production of over 1,000 documents."
But in its report, OCE identified two key figures in the case that it says refused to cooperate fully, if at all, with its investigation.
One is Patrick Bell, described in the report as the former director of new media for McMorris Rodgers's congressional office.
OCE said that "in 2010 and 2012, he allegedly traveled to Spokane, Washington, to perform campaign activities on official time. He also allegedly combined efforts with campaign staff to produce a packet and video for Representative McMorris Rodgers' leadership race.
"The OCE requested information from Mr. Bell to determine whether he improperly used official resources for campaign activity and the leadership race," OCE stated in its report. "Mr. Bell refused to cooperate with the OCE."
The report goes on to identify Brett O'Donnell, a communications consultant for McMorris Rodgers and the House Republican Conference, as receiving campaign funds to perform work for the representative's congressional office.
"The OCE requested information from Mr. O'Donnell to determine whether Representative McMorris Rodgers improperly paid him with campaign funds," the report says.
"Mr. O'Donnell interviewed with the OCE and produced documents, but refused to certify that he provided a complete response to the Request for Information.... Mr. O'Donnell did not fully cooperate with the OCE."
McMorris Rodgers's attorney said Monday that he expects the Ethics Committee will eventually drop the matter. "We remain confident that, in time, the Committee will dismiss the complaint, which was based on frivolous allegations from a single source — a former employee who then discredited himself by admitting to his own improper conduct," Berke said in a statement.
He added: "Neither Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers nor any other staff members were aware of this conduct and countered all of the allegations with the facts: At no time did they improperly mix official and campaign resources.