House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a veteran of the Committee on Ethics, said she believes the panel has the “discretion” to launch an ethics probe outside of the scope of its investigative jurisdiction.
On May 5, Pelosi called on the Ethics Committee to launch a “prompt investigation” into allegations of sexual assault against California Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas.
House rules, however, limit the ethics committee’s investigative jurisdiction, precluding it from undertaking violations that “occurred before the third previous Congress unless the committee determines that the alleged violation is directly related to an alleged violation that occurred in a more recent Congress.” Because lawmakers are currently in the 115th session of Congress, the “third previous Congress” would be the 112th Congress, cutting off the committee’s jurisdiction on January 5, 2011.
“I appreciate your view. I don't necessarily share it and there is some precedent for going back farther,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said when pressed by ABC on the committee’s apparent inability to look into the allegations.
Unless the sexual assault allegations are “directly related” to an additional allegation that occurred after the start of the 112th Congress, House rules state that the ethics committee cannot investigate Cárdenas because the 2007 alleged incident happened too long ago.
Cárdenas is not known to face any more recent alleged violations.
Despite those parameters, Pelosi, who boasts that she has “served longer than anybody” on the Ethics committee, insisted the committee has “discretion” to break that rule.
“I do believe that there is discretion for them to do this, so let them decide and then we'll go from there,” Pelosi contended. “They have that discretion to decide.”
“Let's see what the Ethics committee has to say about it,” Pelosi maintained.
Tom Rust, chief counsel and staff director at the House Ethics committee, has declined to comment on the Cárdenas matter.
Cárdenas, a third-term California Democrat, identified himself through an attorney last month as the subject of a civil suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on April 27 by attorney Lisa Bloom. That complaint alleges that in 2007 an "elected politician" – which Cárdenas acknowledges is him – assaulted an unnamed 16-year-old girl.
According to the lawsuit, which never identifies Cárdenas by name, the accuser says the man fondled her as he drove her to a hospital, touching her vagina and rubbing her breasts after she collapsed while playing golf at the Hillcrest Country Club in 2007.
The young woman said the politician handed her water with “a distinctly different” taste before the two teed off. About four or five hours into a round of golf with him, she "suddenly collapsed to the ground but did not lose consciousness," according to the court filing.
During the ride to the hospital, the man allegedly reached into her shirt, rubbing her breasts, and also reached down her shorts "intermittently throughout the drive."
The alleged incident continued for 30 to 45 minutes during the drive, according to the court filing. At the time of the alleged assault, the victim says she was awake in the car’s passenger seat with her eyes closed and head resting on the window. “Frozen from shock,” she pretended to sleep and did not react to the alleged assault.
Cárdenas denies the allegations, according to a statement released by his lawyer.