Lawmakers Slow to Investigate Other Lawmakers

A broken system? Congressional ethics investigations subject to different rules.

ByABC News
October 6, 2009, 11:53 AM

Oct. 7, 2009 -- At the very least, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is guilty of bad judgment, and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who chairs the House tax writing committee, is guilty of being bad at doing his own taxes. The jury is out on whether either man broke Congressional ethics rules. And if history is any guide, that jury will be out for a very long time.

In the House of Representatives, an ethics inquiry into Rep. Rangel's failure to declare property and income on his tax filings for years, has dragged on for more than a year. The committee has voted to extend its inquiry and questions about Rangel have expanded to include a rent controlled apartment he used as an office in Harlem, and the diversion of earmarked funds to create a school in his name at the City College of New York.

But while questions about the long-serving Democrat have grown, the House Ethics Committee has toiled in secret.

Meanwhile, Rangel continues to chair the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Democrats are expected to block a Republican attempt to strip Rangel of his chairmanship on Wednesday.

Over in the Senate, Ensign admitted in June to having an affair with a former staffer's wife, paying the couple off with $96,000. The plot thickened last week when the New York Times reported that Ensign may have broken ethics rules when he tried to set the staffer, Doug Hampton, up with a lobbying job.

The Senate Ethics Committee does not comment on ongoing investigations, so it was news Oct. 4 when Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the committee, admitted even that her colleagues were conducting a "preliminary inquiry" into Ensign's activities.

Boxer's confirmation of the preliminary inquiry came more than three months after Ensign admitted to having the affair and resigned his Senate Republican leadership post.

Since admitting to the affair, Ensign has clammed up about his dealings with Hampton. He told CNN Tuesday that he would cooperate with all investigations, but would not comment about them while they were ongoing.

While the Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees American citizens a fair, speedy and public trial when they're accused of criminal wrongdoing, lawmakers like Ensign and Rangel play by a different set of rules when they're accused of breaking ethics rules.