- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Veteran Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat, announced Tuesday that he will be stepping down to join a private law firm in Philadelphia, denying that a pending investigation into his campaign finances played a role in his decision to leave office.

Mr. Andrews, who represents New Jersey’s District 1, said he would be retiring from government Feb. 18 and joining Philadelphia-based law firm Dilworth Paxson. He becomes the latest of a string of veteran Democrats who have announced plans to retire in recent weeks, as polls suggest the party’s hopes of recapturing the chamber in November’s midterm elections are increasingly remote.

“In recent days, a new opportunity has come to my attention, which will allow me to continue to serve my community in the private sector, which I believe is in my family and my best interest to accept,” Mr. Andrews said.

But the congressman was also facing an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into whether he misused campaign donations for personal use and to help family members.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Mr. Andrews’ retirement should not get him off the hook.

“It is likely Rep. Andrews is leaving Congress early to prevent the release of the Ethics Committee’s report, which likely would prove highly embarrassing to the ethically challenged lawmaker, and undoubtedly would make securing a cushy, highly compensated position in the private sector much more difficult,” Ms. Sloan said.

Mr. Andrews was twice named to the watchdog’s annual “Most Corrupt” list for spending campaign funds on “a high school graduation party, to support his daughter’s fledgling acting career, and on a lavish family vacation,” Ms. Sloan said, adding that “he also sought and received federal earmarks for his wife’s employer.”

Retirement has derailed some misconduct investigations in the past. In December, Charles Edwards, acting inspector general for the Homeland Security Department, requested reassignment two days before he was set to testify before Congress.

“Americans deserve to learn the extent of Rep. Andrews’ corrupt behavior before he walks behind the doors of a high-priced law firm,” she said.

At his news conference, Mr. Andrews said the investigation had “no role at all” in his decision to resign. He would not say whether the case should be made public. “It’s not my place to comment on the process,” he said.

Mr. Andrews ran for statewide office twice, losing a gubernatorial primary in 1997 and then mounting an unsuccessful primary challenge in 2008 against fellow New Jersey Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

The challenge against Mr. Lautenberg, who died last year at 89, ruffled the feathers of some in New Jersey’s Democratic establishment.

Mr. Andrews said Tuesday that he would support state Sen. Donald Norcross, the brother of power broker George E. Norcross III, according to The Associated Press. Donald Norcross formally announced his candidacy later in the day.President Obama easily carried the district in 2012, with more than 65 percent of the vote.

The 1st District seat is one of at least two in New Jersey that will be open for November’s elections. Rep. Jon Runyan, a Republican, has announced that he will not seek a third term in the 3rd District.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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