‘Full Cooperation’ Challenged in McMorris Rodgers Ethics Case

But the congresswoman’s attorney predicts the case will ultimately be dropped.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05: U.S. House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) listens during a briefing March 5, 2014 at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee in Washington, DC. House Republicans briefed members of the media after a closed conference meeting.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
March 24, 2014, 5:16 p.m.

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.

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