House Republicans Effectively Gut Congressional Ethics Watchdog

PHOTO: An empty House of Representatives Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. is pictured Jan. 10, 2010. PlayBrooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images
WATCH House Republicans Effectively Gut Congressional Ethics Watchdog

House Republicans have voted to put the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under control of the Ethics Committee -- a move that Democrats slammed in the hours before the new Congress is sworn in.

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"Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress."

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on the mantra of draining the swamp, but questions have been raised about his potential business conflicts as well as the interests of those he selected for senior positions in his administration.

The amendment says that the office will be known as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and will "be subject to the authority and direction of the Committee on Ethics," considered a standing committee of the House.

The language limits the reviews that can be conducted as well as the time frame in which alleged violations can be considered.

It also prohibits the board of the new office from employing a press spokesperson.

And it stipulates that if criminal violations are uncovered that they'll be sent to the Ethics Committee first.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who offered the amendment, said in a tweet that it "strengthens" the OCE, "improves upon due process rights" and "does nothing to impede OCE's work."

The Office of Congressional Ethics was established in 2008 and is the "first ever independent body overseeing the ethics of the House of Representatives," the website says.

"The OCE was formed after members of a congressional task force proposed an independent entity in the U.S. House to increase accountability and transparency," the site says.

The OCE is non-partisan and "in all but one set of circumstances, the report and findings of the OCE Board must be publicly released."

The Trump camp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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