Categories for Ethics
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/ETHICS/IRS/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT/TRUMP FAMILY/MELANIA: “President Trump’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by an adviser to the first lady, Melania Trump, while donating $5 million — less than expected — to charity, according to tax filings released on Thursday [2-15-18].
The nonprofit group that oversaw Mr. Trump’s inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017, the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, had been under pressure from liberal government watchdog groups to reveal how it spent the record $107 million it had raised from wealthy donors and corporations. Its chairman, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, had pledged that the committee would be thrifty with its spending, and would donate leftover funds to charity.
But the mandatory tax return it filed with the Internal Revenue Service indicates that the group’s charitable donations included only an already publicized $3 million for hurricane relief, plus a total of $1.75 million to groups involved in decorating and maintaining the White House and the vice president’s residence. The 116-page filing indicates that the overwhelming majority of the funds went toward expenses related to the inauguration, with the biggest share — nearly $51 million — split roughly evenly between two companies.
One of the companies, WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, California, was created by a longtime friend of Mrs. Trump, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, according to a person familiar with the firm. Records show that the firm was created in December 2016, but otherwise there is very little information available about it. Ms. Winston Wolkoff made her name planning Manhattan society galas and has subsequently been brought on as a senior adviser to the first lady’s official government office.”
-Maggie Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel, “Trump’s Inaugural Committee Paid $26 Million to Firm of First Lady’s Adviser,” The New York Times online, Feb. 15, 2018
ETHICS/VA/VETS: “Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Thursday [2-15-18] he would reimburse the U.S. government for costs associated with a trip to Europe that was the subject of a critical internal-watchdog report, and added that he wouldn’t resign.
Dr. Shulkin told reporters that he would pay back the government for his wife’s travel costs for the summer 2017 trip to Copenhagen and London and make a contribution to the U.S. treasury equal to the cost of tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament in July.
‘Everybody is concerned,’ he said on Capitol Hill after appearing at a House hearing. ‘Everybody knows how much work we have to do in the VA. We have to continue the progress.’
Dr. Shulkin said he already had spoken to President Donald Trump about the report’s findings and was scheduled to meet with White House officials for more discussions about the report.
The report by the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general, released Wednesday, said Dr. Shulkin misspent taxpayer money and improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets during the trip last July.
The report also said that Dr. Shulkin’s chief of staff altered an email to gain official approval for the secretary’s wife to take part in the trip as an ‘invitational traveler,’ which enabled her expenses to be covered by the government. The report recommended Dr. Shulkin reimburse the government for the $4,312 paid to cover his wife’s travel costs and contribute to the treasury the cost of the tennis tickets.”
-Peter Nicholas, “VA Secretary Says He’ll Reimburse U.S. for Disputed European Travel Costs,” The Wall Street Journal online, Feb. 15, 2018 04:01pm
ETHICS/VA/VETS: “Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tennis tickets, misspent taxpayer money and misused department resources in an official trip to Europe last year, according to an inspector general’s report released Wednesday [2-15-18].
The report also said a department employee acted as a ‘personal travel concierge’ during the trip to Europe, and that Dr. Shulkin’s chief of staff made false claims to a VA ethics official by altering an email to get official approval for Dr. Shulkin’s wife to take part in the trip as an ‘invitational traveler,’ a status that meant the VA would cover her expenses. Her airfare cost taxpayers $4,312.
The inspector general referred the matter involving the chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. The report said the Justice agency chose not to prosecute the case.”
-Ben Kesling and Peter Nicholas, “VA Chief Got Free Wimbledon Tickets, Wife’s Airfare on Trip, Watchdog Says,” The Wall Street Journal online, Feb. 14, 2018 05:45pm
ETHICS/VA/VETS: “Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tennis tickets, misspent taxpayer money and misused department resources in an official trip to Europe last year, according to an inspector general’s report released Wednesday [2-14-18].
The report also said a department employee acted as a ‘personal travel concierge’ during the trip to Europe and that Dr. Shulkin’s chief of staff made false claims to a VA ethics official by altering an email to get official approval for Dr. Shulkin’s wife to take part in the trip as an ‘invitational traveler,’ a status that meant the VA would cover her expenses. Her airfare cost taxpayers $4,312.
The inspector general referred the matter involving the chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, to the U.S. Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. The report said the Justice Department chose not to prosecute the case… Attorneys for Dr. Shulkin wrote a response to the report that said the document is ‘one-sided’ and ‘casts aside evidence contradicting your chosen narrative.’
The response from the attorneys said the trip was ‘immensely valuable’ to the VA. They wrote that Dr. Shulkin violated no ‘ethical regulations’ in accepting the Wimbledon tickets. They said Dr. Shulkin had no role in obtaining approval for his wife’s travel, and that the department employee, ‘on his own initiative’ had undertaken the ‘detailed planning of tourist activities.’ “
-Ben Kesling and Peter Nicholas, “VA Secretary Shulkin Misused Department Resources in Trip to Europe, Inspector General Finds,” The Wall Street Journal online, Feb. 14, 2018 12:47pm
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/ETHICS/NATIONAL SECURITY/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT/TRUMP FAMILY: “One week after the 2016 election, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted that he was ‘not trying to get *top level security clearance* for my children,’ calling such claims ‘a typically false news story.’ But he said nothing at the time about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Nearly 15 months later, Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation.
Mr. Kushner’s status was similar to the status of others in the White House, including Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned last week after his two former wives alleged that he physically and emotionally abused them during their marriages.
People familiar with the security clearance process in Mr. Trump’s White House said it was widely acknowledged among senior aides that raising questions about unresolved vetting issues in a staff member’s background would implicitly reflect on Mr. Kushner’s status, as well — a situation made more awkward because Mr. Kushner is married to the president’s daughter Ivanka…
Questions about the security clearance process at the White House have become more urgent after the scandal surrounding Mr. Porter and the still-unanswered questions about when the president’s aides knew about the abuse allegations against him. On Monday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, again refused to provide a detailed explanation…
Ms. Sanders referred questions about the security clearance process — and why Mr. Porter was allowed to continue working at the White House for so long despite the abuse accusations — to the F.B.I. and the intelligence agencies, saying they are the ones that handle the background checks and the granting of permission to handle classified information… The F.B.I. had no comment on Monday.”
-Michael D. Shear and Matthew Rosenberg, “Accusations Against Aide Renew Attention on White House Security Clearances,” The New York Times online, Feb. 12, 2018
ETHICS/NOMINATIONS/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “President Donald Trump’s new pick to head a key federal ethics office is winning praise from an unlikely source: the man who quit the post last year.
The White House announced Wednesday [2-7-18] evening that Trump intends to nominate a current associate counsel at the Office of Government Ethics, Emory Rounds, to serve a five-year term as the office’s director.
Rounds served in the White House counsel’s office under President George W. Bush before joining OGE in 2009.
Former OGE Director Walter Shaub, who resigned last July and has been an outspoken critic of the Trump’s administration’s handling of ethics matters, welcomed Trump’s selection of Rounds’. Shuab resigned after repeatedly denouncing Trump’s approach to government integrity and conflict-of-interest issues…
The announcement comes two days after the acting head of OGE, David Apol, appeared to take a swipe at the president and his administration in a somewhat cryptic blog post warning that some in government are acting unethically…
Rounds previously served as an ethics attorney at the Commerce Department and in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Navy.”
-Josh Gerstein, “Trump picks new federal ethics chief,” Politico, Feb. 7, 2018 09:26pm
ETHICS/HOUSE OF REPS/LEGAL: “The House of Representatives voted Tuesday [2-6-18] to overhaul its policies on sexual harassment, banning lawmakers from using taxpayer funds to pay for settlements and mandating public reporting of cases.
The measures, which passed unanimously, would mark a major shift in how sexual-harassment claims are handled in the Capitol. The legislation, which lawmakers say was written with input from victims of sexual harassment, grants subpoena power to the office investigating allegations and requires it to release a biannual report listing each award or settlement paid during the previous year, including the amount of the settlement and the member office involved. Cases would be referred to the House Ethics Committee upon conclusion of an investigation.
The bill also bars members from having sexual relationships with their employees.
Under the previous law, no settlement amounts or names were disclosed from this office. People who accuse members or staff of sexual harassment have had to sign nondisclosure agreements and undergo counseling.
The new policies also create an Office of Employee Advocacy for victims.”
-Natalie Andrews, “House Passes Sexual-Harassment Revamp,” The Wall Street Journal online, Feb. 6, 2018 03:40pm
2016 ELECTION/ETHICS/JUSTICE DEPARTMENT/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “A government-watchdog group filed complaints Monday with the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department asking the agencies to investigate a $130,000 payment arranged by President Donald Trump’s lawyer to a former adult-film star before the 2016 presidential election.
Common Cause, based in Washington, D.C., said the payment, revealed in a Wall Street Journal report earlier this month, may have violated reporting requirements and exceeded contribution limits under the Federal Election Campaign Act.
The group asked the Justice Department to investigate whether President Trump may have violated a criminal law against making a false statement to the FEC by omitting the transaction from campaign filings.
The Journal reported that lawyer Michael Cohen arranged for the payment to Stephanie Clifford in return for signing a nondisclosure agreement that prevented her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, citing people familiar with the matter…
Mr. Cohen hasn’t addressed the $130,000 payment, but he and the White House have denied any encounter between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford. Mr. Cohen also released a statement by email signed by ‘Stormy Daniels’—Ms. Clifford’s stage name—denying that she had a ‘sexual and/or romantic affair’ with Mr. Trump or had received ‘hush money’ from him. On Saturday, at a public appearance in Greenville, S.C., Ms. Clifford declined to discuss the statement provided by Mr. Cohen or the agreement.
The White House and Ms. Clifford didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.”
-Michael Rothfeld and Joe Palazzolo, “Group Asks FEC, DOJ to Investigate Trump Lawyer’s Payment to Adult-Film Star,” The Wall Street Journal online, Jan. 22, 2018 06:25pm
ETHICS/GOP/HOUSE OF REPS/POLITICAL FIGURES: “Less than three days after he was removed from the U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee, Republican lawmaker Patrick Meehan asked the panel to investigate allegations he engaged in sexual harassment and misused official resources.
The committee on Monday [1-22-18] said it had become aware of public allegations about the misconduct and had received a written request from Meehan to investigate. The allegations published in the New York Times on Saturday led Speaker Paul Ryan to pull Meehan from the committee.
Ryan also told Meehan to repay any taxpayer funds, reported to total thousands, used to settle a former female aide’s claim that Meehan had made unwanted sexual advances. Meehan denied the allegations of inappropriate behavior…
Meehan’s request came after lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday that would stop House members from using public funds for awards or settlements in sexual harassment cases.
In recent months, a wave of women and men have accused high-powered men in entertainment, the news media and government of harassment or abuse. When that wave swept through Capitol Hill, the congressional Office of Compliance revealed it had paid out more than $160,000 in the last decade to settle sexual harassment or discrimination claims against lawmakers, sparking outrage that public funds may have been used hush money.”
-Reuters Staff, “Congressman, ousted from ethics panel, asks it to investigate him,” Reuters, Jan. 22, 2018 04:20pm
CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/TRUMP BUSINESS: “A new report documents 64 politicians, interest groups, corporations and entities affiliated with foreign governments that used Trump-branded properties in the past year.
The report released Tuesday [1-16-18] by Public Citizen, a liberal-funded watchdog group based in Washington, comes about a year after President Donald Trump stepped away from day-to-day management of the Trump Organization. Mr. Trump retained financial interest in the company through a trust and can draw money from it at any time.
Government-ethics specialists say that because the president continues to profit from his business interests, it is important to catalog who is spending money at them. The Trump Organization, now led by Mr. Trump’s sons Don Jr. and Eric Trump, is a global real-estate development, property management and licensing company.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment and referred questions to the Trump Organization. The company didn’t reply to requests for comment. Mr. Trump and White House officials have previously disputed that his financial ties to his company posed any ethics challenges.
A group of lawyers including several ex-White House ethics counselors sued the president alleging he is violating a clause of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits officials from accepting payments from foreign and domestic governments… The Trump Organization said it would transfer profits earned from foreign government payments by guests at his hotel properties to the U.S. Treasury, but the company has declined to provide information about how it tracks that money. A spokeswoman for the Trump Hotel Group said last month that the company expects to have information to share at the end of February.”
-Julie Bykowicz, “Checking In: Report Lists Dozens of Groups That Used Trump Properties,” The Wall Street Journal online, Jan. 16, 2018 12:01am
DONALDISM/ETHICS/MEDIA/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “Every awards show has its critics, but President Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed ‘Fake News Awards’ has drawn attention from a group beyond the usual peanut gallery: ethics experts who say the event could run afoul of White House rules and, depending on what exactly the president says during the proceedings, the First Amendment.
The White House has not yet said what form the awards presentation, scheduled by Trump for Wednesday [1-17-18], may take. But Norman Eisen, the former special counsel for ethics for President Barack Obama, and Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, have both tweeted that if White House staff members were involved, they would be in violation of the executive branch’s Standards of Ethical Conduct, which ban employees from using their office for ‘the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.’
Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, agreed, telling POLITICO that there were plenty of valid reasons for executive branch employees to use their position to criticize private enterprises — if a bus company were violating federal safety regulations, for instance — but that helping put on an event to bash the media would not qualify… The president is not subject to the executive branch ethical standards, but all other White House staffers are. Ethics experts say that if the undertaking were carried out exclusively by political staff from the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee — and not government employees in the White House — there would be no problem…
The White House did not respond to questions asking whether any staff members would be involved. The Republican National Committee also did not respond to requests for comment.”
-Jason Schwartz, “Trump’s ‘Fake News Awards’ could violate ethics rules,” Politico, Jan. 15, 2018 07:24am
DEMS/ETHICS/POLITICAL FIGURES: “A prominent donor to the Democratic Party says she is considering withdrawing support for senators who urged their colleague Al Franken to resign after he was accused of sexual misconduct.
The donor, Susie Tompkins Buell, has been one of the Democratic Party’s most generous supporters for decades. In particular, she has been a champion of female politicians, including Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Maria Cantwell of Washington.
Last month, those senators were among the dozens who called for Mr. Franken to resign from the Senate after at least six women accused him of sexual harassment or misconduct, such as forcible kissing and groping.
Mr. Franken announced his resignation on Dec. 7 before the Senate Ethics Committee had completed a review of the accusations, which he disputed…
Ms. Buell said in a text message on Saturday that withdrawing support from the senators who called for his resignation was ‘an option’ she was considering.
‘In my gut they moved too fast,’ she wrote, adding that Mr. Franken ‘was never given his chance to tell his side of the story.’
‘For me this is dangerous and wrong,’ she added. ‘I am a big believer in helping more women into the political system but this has given me an opportunity to rethink of how I can best help my party.’ “
-Jacey Fortin, “Major Donor Reconsiders Support for Democrats Who Urged Al Franken to Quit,” The New York Times online, Jan. 7, 2018
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/ETHICS/ISRAEL/TRUMP FAMILY/JARED KUSHNER: “Last May, Jared Kushner accompanied President Trump, his father-in-law, on the pair’s first diplomatic trip to Israel, part of Mr. Kushner’s White House assignment to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Shortly before, his family real estate company received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of Israel’s largest financial institutions, according to a Menora executive.
The deal, which was not made public, pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm. While Mr. Kushner has sold parts of his business since taking a White House job last year, he still has stakes in most of the family empire — including the apartment buildings in and around Baltimore.
The Menora transaction is the latest financial arrangement that has surfaced between Mr. Kushner’s family business and Israeli partners, including one of the country’s wealthiest families and a large Israeli bank that is the subject of a United States criminal investigation.”
-Jesse Drucker, “Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even With Mideast Diplomatic Role,” The New York Times online, Jan. 7, 2018
ETHICS/LEGAL: “A former aide to GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold contacted the House Ethics Committee last week to detail what she said were regular requests from the congressman and his chief of staff to perform campaign-related duties even though she was never paid by or volunteered with his congressional campaign.
Elizabeth Peace, who was Farenthold’s communications director from May 2015 to March 2017, told committee lawyers last Wednesday that while she worked for the Texas lawmaker, she was pressured to, and at least on one occasion, yelled at by Farenthold’s chief of staff to help with campaign efforts, according to a source familiar with Peace’s conversation with committee lawyers…
House rules generally prohibit the use of official resources for campaign or political purposes. If Peace’s allegations to the ethics committee are found to be true, they could mark campaign finance violations for Farenthold. CNN has not independently confirmed Peace’s allegations…
Reached on the phone Thursday evening, Peace declined to comment, but confirmed that she spoke with House Ethics Committee lawyers last week.
The House Ethics Committee declined to comment for this story, per its usual protocol of not commenting on any ongoing investigations.”
-MJ Lee, “Exclusive: Ex-Farenthold aide told House Ethics Committee she was pressured to perform campaign duties,” CNN Politics, CNN.com, Dec. 22, 2017 10:18am
ETHICS/HOUSE OF REPS: “The U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee said on Friday [12-15-17] it has begun an investigation into public reports that Democrat Ruben Kihuen engaged in sexual harassment, adding that starting the probe is not a sign that the Nevada Representative violated any rules.
‘As I’ve said previously, I intend to fully cooperate, and I welcome an opportunity to clear my name,’ said Kihuen in a statement provided to Reuters.”
-Reuters Staff, “House ethics committee investigating Democrat Kihuen on harassment allegations,” Reuters, Dec. 15, 2017 10:18am
ETHICS/GOP/TEXAS: “Rep. Blake Farenthold, who has faced allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior from former staff members, will not seek reelection, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The Texas Republican’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday [12-14-17], but the news comes after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into the harassment allegations and as former staff members have begun speaking out about his conduct.
Farenthold spoke with House Speaker Paul Ryan twice on Wednesday and met with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers, according to GOP sources familiar with the conversations.
Asked at a news conference Thursday whether Farenthold should resign immediately, Ryan demurred…
The 55-year-old married congressman, who was first elected in 2010, denied the accusations.”
-Elena Schneider, “Farenthold won’t seek reelection,” Politico, Dec. 14, 2017 12:06pm
ETHICS/GOP/LEGAL: “A Kentucky lawmaker died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on Wednesday [12-13-17] evening after facing allegations that he molested a 17-year-old girl in 2012.
Dan Johnson, a Republican state representative, shot himself on the Greenwell Ford Road bridge in Mt. Washington, Kentucky, according to the Bullitt County coroner. The apparent suicide came after his Republican colleagues called for him to step down following reports that he assaulted a young woman on New Year’s Eve of 2012.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting on Monday released a seven-months-long investigation outlining claims by Maranda Richmond that Johnson assaulted her in the basement of his home.
According to local media, Richmond reported the incident to police in 2013. But investigators closed the case without filing charges. Since the reporting by KyCIR, the case has been reopened…
Johnson denied the sexual assault allegations in a Tuesday press conference, and again on Wednesday in a Facebook post just hours before he took his life.”
-Akela Lacy, “Following molestation allegations, Kentucky lawmaker dies in apparent suicide,” Politico, Dec. 13, 2017 10:45pm
ETHICS/POLITICS: “The House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into Rep. Blake Farenthold over allegations that he sexually harassed a former aide and then retaliated against her when she complained about it.
The committee said new evidence in the matter, which was first reviewed in 2015, warranted an investigation. Earlier Thursday [12-7-17], the panel said it was seeking an interview with Lauren Greene, the former aide who says she was sexually harassed by the Texas Republican.
Greene received an $84,000, taxpayer-funded settlement after she sued Farenthold in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
Even though the Office of Congressional Ethics cleared Farenthold, the Ethics Committee has continued to look into the matter…
The ethics panel had reached out to interview Greene more than a year ago. But Greene, who has tried to move on with her life since leaving Farenthold’s office, declined to participate, hoping to put the matter behind her.
However, after Greene spoke with POLITICO and CNN this week about being blackballed following her allegations, the Ethics Committee reached out again…
Farenthold’s spokeswoman said he has voluntarily testified before Ethics and OCE.”
-Rachel Bade and John Bresnahan, “Ethics Committee launches investigation into Farenthold sexual harassment allegations,” Politico, Dec. 7, 2017 07:14pm
ETHICS/INTERIOR/RYAN ZINKE: “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent more than $14,000 on government helicopters this summer to take himself and staff to and from official events near Washington, D.C., in order to accommodate his attendance at a swearing-in ceremony for his replacement in Congress and a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to previously undisclosed official travel documents.
The travel logs, released to POLITICO via a Freedom of Information Act request, show Zinke using taxpayer-funded vehicles from the U.S. Park Police to help accommodate his political events schedule…
The former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL is already being investigated by the Interior Department’s inspector general and the independent Office of Special Counsel for his mixing of official travel and political events. Interior earlier this year released records documenting Zinke’s use of charter and military aircraft, including a $12,000 flight from Las Vegas to Montana that allowed him to give a speech for a hockey team owned by a major campaign donor.”
-Ben Lefebvre, “Zinke booked government helicopters to attend D.C. events,” Politico, Dec. 7, 2017 07:06pm
ETHICS/LEGAL/POLITICAL FIGURES/WOMEN: “Democratic senators called for Sen. Al Franken to resign on Wednesday [12-6-17], in the wake of a series of allegations of sexual misconduct, in a dramatic shift that narrows the likelihood the Democratic lawmaker will be able to stay in his seat.
The wave of statements from the senators, including a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, marks the first public calls from his Senate colleagues to quit. Mr. Franken is one of a number of lawmakers who have faced calls in recent weeks to resign over allegations of improper behavior toward women.
Mr. Franken has been accused by several women of groping or forcibly kissing them, during rehearsals or while posing for photos. While denying some of the accusations or saying he remembers the incidents differently, Mr. Franken has also apologized and said he has ‘let a lot of people down.’ He has pledged to cooperate with a Senate ethics investigation.
Mr. Franken’s office said he will make an announcement Thursday.”
-Natalie Andrews, “Democratic Senators Call for Al Franken to Resign Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations,” The Wall Street Journal online, Dec. 6, 2017 12:38pm
ETHICS/LEGAL/POLITICAL FIGURES: “Rep. Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokesman — the only known sitting member of Congress to have used a little-known congressional account to pay an accuser, sources told POLITICO.
Lauren Greene, the Texas Republican’s former communications director, sued her boss in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment…
When she complained about comments Farenthold and a male staffer made to her, Greene said the congressman improperly fired her. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, but the case was later dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.
No information was ever released on that agreement.
House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door Friday morning meeting that only one House office in the past five years had used an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Harper said in that one instance, the settlement totaled $84,000…
But in a joint statement both Greene and Farenthold prepared at the time of the settlement but never released — a copy of which was shared with POLITICO by Alderman on Friday — the two confirmed they reached a deal in part to save taxpayer dollars.”
-Rachael Bade, “Lawmaker behind secret $84K sexual harassment settlement unmasked,” Politico, Dec. 1, 2017 12:24pm
ETHICS/LEGAL/POLITICAL FIGURES: “The revelation that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) secretly settled a sexual harassment claim using his office funds obscured a disturbing fact: The House appears to have no clear rules on whether Conyers’ colleagues can do the same thing.
Conyers in 2015 made a severance payment of roughly $27,000 to a former aide who accused him of harassment using his taxpayer-funded office account. But even though the House ethics manual says that employees should be paid for having ‘regularly performed official duties’ — in other words, showing up and doing work, a guideline that the severance payment to Conyers’ former aide didn’t meet — the settlement deal was still allowed to go forward.
Now Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a vocal advocate for reform of Capitol Hill’s secretive system for handling workplace harassment, is calling out the lack of policing of the secret one-off settlements. She wants the House ethics committee to state definitively whether the chamber will allow more Conyers-style settlements.
The ethics panel ‘currently has no clear position on whether these payments are indeed impermissible,’ Speier told the committee’s leaders in a Thursday letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO.
Allowing lawmakers use of their office’s budgets ‘to avoid public disclosure of wrongdoing only serves to enable the evasion of accountability,’ Speier wrote, adding that she knows of one member who used a maneuver similar to Conyers’ to settle a misconduct case earlier this year.”
-Elana Schor, “Lawmakers have carte blanche to cut secret harassment settlements,” Politico, Dec. 1, 2017 05:04am
ETHICS/LEGAL/POLITICAL FIGURES: “The Senate Ethics Committee has begun looking into the allegations against Sen. Al Franken, according to a statement from the committee issued Thursday [11-30-17]…
Franken faces numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including one incident shared by an accuser who came forward earlier Thursday. Stephanie Kemplin, a 41-year-old Army veteran, told CNN that Franken cupped her breast during a photo op while she was deployed in Kuwait.
Prior to Kemplin coming forward, multiple other women had shared experiences in which they say the Democratic senator from Minnesota groped them.
The accusations began when morning news anchor Leeann Tweeden said Franken groped and kissed her during a USO tour in 2006.
Regarding the accusation by Kemplin, a Franken spokesperson told CNN Wednesday night, ‘As Sen. Franken made clear this week, he takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct. He remains fully committed to cooperating with the ethics investigation.’ “
-Sophie Tatum and MJ Lee, “Senate Ethics Committee looking into Franken’s actions,” CNN Politics, CNN.com, Nov. 30, 2017 09:47pm
ETHICS/HOUSE OF REPS/LEGAL/POLITICAL FIGURES: “U.S. Democratic Representative John Conyers, who is facing several sexual harassment allegations, has been hospitalized, an attorney for Conyers said on Thursday [11-30-17].
Conyers, 88, who has served in Congress since 1965, returned to Detroit on Tuesday, although the House of Representatives is still in session…
Reed did not say why Conyers had been hospitalized, although local media in Detroit, Michigan, said the congressman’s ailments were stress-related. Reed said he would release more details on Conyers’ condition later on Thursday.
Conyers has stepped down as the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, but has faced calls from some lawmakers to resign from the House entirely. The House has launched an ethics probe into his behavior.
Republican and Democratic House members on Wednesday introduced a bill that would bar public funds from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against members and require previously made payments to be made public.
Conyers reportedly used public funds to settle a claim from a woman who worked in his office.
There has been a flurry of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations in recent weeks against public figures, including former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, Democratic Senator Al Franken and Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.”
-Rueters Staff, “Democrat Conyers, accused of sexual harassment, is hospitalized,” Reuters, Nov. 30, 2017 06:41am
ETHICS/LEGAL/POLITICAL FIGURES/WOMEN: “Senator Al Franken, addressing reporters here for the first time since reports emerged that he had groped several women, said on Monday that he was sorry and would be getting back to work to try to regain the trust of women, voters and his colleagues…
Four women have accused Mr. Franken, who was a well-known comedian before joining the Senate in 2009, of groping them. In one case, Leeann Tweeden, an actress and radio broadcaster, said Mr. Franken had forcibly kissed and inappropriately touched her during a 2006 U.S.O. tour of the Middle East. She also released a photograph of Mr. Franken with his hands placed over her chest.
Mr. Franken apologized for that incident and three others in which women accused him of grabbing their buttocks while posing for pictures.
Mr. Franken’s case has been referred to the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate. Committee policy prevents its members from commenting on potential or open cases.”
-Nicholas Fandos, “Al Franken, Battling for His Political Life, Apologizes for Groping,” The New York Times online, Nov. 27, 2017