- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Oh, GOP lawmakers. The optics are bad — clearly, even you can see that.

“With no warning, House Republicans vote to gut independent ethics office,” a headline from The New York Times read on Tuesday.

“Republicans gut their own oversight,” Politico wrote.

“House GOP votes to strip independence from congressional ethics office,” NPR’s lead read.

Vox, the liberal online website, took things one step further, warning the decision “could signal a wider acceptance of corruption.”

GOP lawmakers essentially moved to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was set up in 2008 after a series of corruption scandals, with one notably involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Republicans want to rename the agency and put it under the control the House Ethics Committee, where it couldn’t investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the Ethics Committee’s consent.

Apparently, lawmakers were frustrated that the Office of Congressional Ethics could issue public reports on the member or person it was investigating — allowing for negative publicity for that person, regardless of whether they were guilty of the crime. Those reports will no longer be public.

In addition, the office was largely redundant — if a crime was serious, than the FBI, Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys around the nation would take up the charge. This has been done in most cases. The Office of Congressional Ethics stepped down in the case of Michael Grimm, a former New York state lawmaker, once the DOJ informed them a criminal case was already underway.

As Jim Geraghty at the National Review argues, the ethics office was used infrequently, and many times dismissed cases.

“How many times since 2008 have you heard from the Office of Congressional Ethics? In the past three years, about half of what the office investigated resulted in the office’s board voting to end the investigation or dismiss the matter,” Mr. Geraghty wrote.

“In the 114th Congress, the Office of Congressional Ethics began 35 reviews, and referred 17 to the House Ethics Committee. In the 113th Congress, the office began 36 reviews, and referred 16 to the committee. In the 112th Congress, the office began 32 reviews, and referred 13 to the committee,” he concluded.

But none of this really matters — it’s the optics that does, and they are bad.

The mainstream media is already fearful Mr. Trump is going to be swayed by his business interests, and that the GOP in general is evil and corruptible. By gutting an ethics office, literally on the first day back from their holiday vacation, Republican lawmakers are playing right into this preconceived narrative.

Moreover, there’s much to get done this session.

With an ambitious agenda planned — repealing Obamacare, investing in infrastructure, tackling tax reform and rebuilding our military — why would House Republicans choose gutting an ethics office as their first line of official business?

President-elect Donald Trump signaled his displeasure with the move on Twitter Tuesday.

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it ….. may be, their number on act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” Mr. Trump tweeted.


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