Dem. Rep. Murtha Accused of Ethics Violation

GOP Rep. Mike Rogers says Murtha vowed to block funding for his district.

May 18, 2007 — -- Monday, tensions between Democrats and Republicans could turn especially ugly when a Republican congressman, who was once an FBI agent, tries to obtain a formal reprimand against a powerful Democrat for allegedly violating House ethics rules by abusing his perch on the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who for six years served as an FBI special agent investigating public corruption as a member of the Chicago bureau's organized crime unit, says that Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense, violated House ethics rules Thursday for threatening to strip any funding for Rogers' projects after Rogers pushed for the elimination of a government center in Murtha's home district.

On the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday, Rogers alleges, Murtha — upset by Rogers' aggressive attempts the week before to kill the project in Murtha's home district — said something along the lines of "I hope you don't have any earmarks in the defense appropriation bill because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever."

Rogers said he replied by saying, "This is not the way we do things here" and "is that supposed to make me afraid of you?"

"That's the way I do it," Murtha said, according to Rogers.

The House code of official conduct states that a congressman "may not condition the inclusion of language to provide funding for a congressional earmark … on any vote cast by another member."

Murtha said in a statement released Friday,"The committee and staff give every Democrat and Republican the same consideration. We have extensive hearings and every request is given careful consideration. We will continue to do just that."

The conflict seems to have begun last Friday, when Rogers introduced legislation that would have stripped $23 million in funding from the House Intelligence Act designated for the National Drug Intelligence Center, a project created in 1993 to centralize and coordinate drug intelligence. Located in Johnstown, Pa., in Murtha's district, the NDIC employs approximately 400 of his constituents.

With Republican members of Congress yelling "Pennsylvania pork!" on the House floor, Rogers' efforts to have NDIC funds cut and the Department of Justice inspector general to audit the effectiveness of the NDIC, failed.

Murtha, the ninth most-senior member of Congress, has been an increasing target of GOP criticism ever since he shifted toward opposing the war in Iraq in November 2005, calling it "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." A hawkish Democrat who had supported the war, Murtha's opposition came as something of a tipping point for war opponents. At the time, many Democrats who have since become outspoken critics of the war, proceeded cautiously. In retrospect, Murtha's announcement was one of the pivotal moments for the anti-war movement.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement Thursday evening indicating he supported Rogers wholeheartedly.

"Mike Rogers knows public corruption, and he knows about threats and intimidation," Boehner said. "For five years as an FBI special agent, it was Rogers' job to go after those who abused the public's trust and to stare down mobsters. No member of Congress should be threatened or intimidated because of his or her efforts to crack down on wasteful spending and protect the interests of taxpayers."

Due to the late hour of the accusation, no Democrats could be reached for comment, but given Murtha's popularity among his colleagues it seemed likely that they would not simply allow one of their leaders' reputations to be impugned.