The Corner

House Approves Pelosi Investigation

This afternoon, by a vote of 402 to one, the U.S. House approved a resolution calling for the House Ethics Committee to investigate House Democratic leaders and their handling of ethical allegations concerning former Rep. Eric Massa (D., N.Y.). House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) offered the privileged resolution.

In the resolution, Republicans urge the ethics committee, based on recent media reports, to probe into allegations of sexual harassment made by Massa’s former congressional staffers. Inaction by House Democratic leaders “may have exposed employees and interns of Rep. Massa to continued harassment,” the resolution reads. The resolution also asks the committee to investigate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), and their staffs:

(1)    The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is directed to investigate fully, pursuant to clause 3(a)(2) of House Rule XI, which House Democratic leaders and members of their respective staffs had knowledge prior to March 3, 2010 of the aforementioned allegations concerning Mr. Massa, and what actions each leader and staffer having any such knowledge took after learning of the allegations;

(2)    Within ten days following adoption of this resolution, and pursuant to Committee on Standards of Official Conduct rule 19, the committee shall establish an Investigative Subcommittee in the aforementioned matter, or report to the House no later than the final day of that period the reasons for its failure to do so;

(3)    All Members and staff are instructed to cooperate fully in the committee’s investigation and to preserve all records, electronic or otherwise, that may bear on the subject of this investigation;

(4)    The Chief Administrative Officer shall immediately take all steps necessary to secure and prevent the alteration or deletion of any e-mails, text messages, voicemails and other electronic records resident on House equipment that have been sent or received by the Members and staff who are the subjects of the investigation authorized under this resolution until advised by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct that it has no need of any portion of said records; and,

(5)    The Committee shall issue a final report of its findings and recommendations in this matter no later than June 30, 2010.

Republican aides tell National Review Online that this issue is far from over. (Aides asked to remain anonymous due to this being an ongoing ethics investigation.)

“There is a fine line between acting on public information that continues to bear itself out versus taking a political opportunity, and we’re very mindful of that,” says one senior GOP House staffer. “The key here is to make sure, be it through political pressure or a formal resolution, that the American people, and other members, know about the who-what-when-where-why of the Pelosi-Massa case. It’s a disturbing, horrible situation.”

“The ethics committee’s decision to end the Massa investigation after he resigned does not mean that this is over,” adds another House GOP aide. “It is unacceptable to end the investigation of this case without knowing when Pelosi and her staff knew, what they did, and why. We’re going to make sure they live up to their promise to be the most ethical Congress in history. A privileged resolution raising questions is probably the most responsible course to take at this point, especially when we hear more and more about the speaker’s staff knowing about this for months on end.”

A third senior Republican aide says that the ethics committee’s recent ruling against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.), which blamed his staff for any wrongdoing, has led Republicans to believe that “clearly members are going to be held responsible for their staff’s work and actions.”

A senior Republican party official tells NRO that the 2006 ethics case of former Rep. Mark Foley (R., Fla.) could also serve as a crucial precedent in any Pelosi investigation. “All one has to do is look at the Foley report to see how the Democrats have not held themselves to the standard they set four years ago. They criticized the Republican leadership then for not confronting the situation in a member-to-member fashion. They said that reporting allegations to the ethics committee is an important step, but it does not mitigate the situation in the interim. We need to know if Pelosi made any effort to confront Massa about these charges. Saying you punted it to Steny Hoyer won’t cut it.”

Another GOP official says the Foley case could present many months of problems for Pelosi. “The speaker may have thought that this would be over after Massa resigned, but let’s remember that the ethics committee ruled it germane to continue to investigate Foley long after he left office, issuing their report months later.”

Here are some snippets from the Foley report that could trip up Pelosi:

“As a general matter, the Subcommittee observed a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Rep. Foley’s conduct. Rather than addressing the issue fully, some witnesses did far too little, while attempting to pass the responsibility for acting to others. Some relied on unreasonably fine distinctions regarding their defined responsibilities. Almost no one followed up adequately on the limited actions they did take.” (p. 70)

“While some did fulfill their responsibilities, the Investigative Subcommittee finds that too many exhibited insufficient diligence or willingness to take the steps necessary to ensure that the matter was being appropriately handled.” (p. 70)

“Several people were told about the emails and were asked to take action regarding them, including confronting Rep. Foley and telling him to stop communications with the former page, but none of those people saw – or insisted on seeing – the emails prior to taking such action.” (pp. 70-71)

“Almost no one followed up to make sure that the action they had taken had been successful.” (p. 71)

“Some or all of these factors (as well as others) may have played a role in decisions that were made about how this matter should have been handled, but in the Investigative Subcommittee’s view none of these factors mitigated the need for those involved to learn all the relevant facts and communicate those facts candidly and freely to those with authority to address the issues raised by the emails.” (p. 71)

“The Investigative Subcommittee finds that the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Speaker Hastert was told, at least in passing, about the e-mails by both Majority Leader Boehner and Rep. Reynolds in spring 2006.” (p. 85)

“All Members, officers, and employees of the House must pursue specific and non-specific allegations of improper interaction between a Member or House employee and a participant in the House Page Program – even if the allegations are not readily verifiable or involve the sensitive subject of a Member’s personal relationship with a young person. This obligation applies regardless of whether the Member and page are of the same or opposite sex.” (p. 89)

Still, even though the House has approved further investigation into the Massa affair, that doesn’t mean an investigation is guaranteed. The ethics committee, chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.), a Pelosi ally, will ultimately make the decision on how to move forward – if at all – on their own. That distinction, the AP points out, could “kill any further investigation.”

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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