Never mind conflicts of interest surrounding incoming President Donald J. Trump. In anticipation of the nation’s 45th president, an emboldened group of Republican congressmen thought it would be a good time to strip power away from the Congressional Ethics Office, which was formed in 2008 after several former congressmen ran afoul of the law.
Financial ethics worries have embroiled Trump’s transition to the White House. Political scientists and news outlets have raised questions about his multi-billion dollar family business, which is profit-seeking in countries that also happen to have complicated diplomatic ties with the U.S. Other concerns include ties between some members of his cabinet and Russia. (Trump still hasn’t announced in any detail a plan to separate his business interests from the White House).
Meanwhile, a vote to effectively disable the watchdog over congress was solidified behind closed doors, by a Republican conference of representatives, without approval from party leaders. Republicans in the private conference voted to take away power from the Congressional Ethics Office, the New York Times reported late Monday. Congress, which will vote on the change as a whole, doesn’t officially return to work until Tuesday morning.
Instead of releasing its reports independently and to the public, it will submit its findings to an internal body, made up of the congressmen its supposed to be watching, The Times reports
This is happening, as NPR points out, under the nose of a president-elect who won over middle-class voters while promising to “drain the swamp” of corrupt activity in Washington.
In its place, according to The Times, congress will set up an internal board. That didn’t work the first time around, given the fact that the independent Congressional Ethics Office busted a slew of crooks within months of its creation.
Here’s a short list of things the Congressional Ethics Office has done, the types of things that possibly … likely … most likely won’t get done as Mr. Trump prepares to take office Jan. 20.
- In April the office found that Alan Grayson, a Democratic Representative from Florida, used his office staff to handle his personal business. Grayson has operated a hedge fund while in office.
- Last year the office released a report finding that 21 members of congress had accepted trips paid-for by state-owned oil companies in the Middle East.
- Three years ago the office probed allegations that Republican Rep. Michelle Bachman used money she raised as a congresswoman to fund her 2012 run for president.
- Between its creation in 2008 and 2010 the office aided in the investigation of disgraced Republican congressman Tom DeLay, who was sentenced to five years in prison in money-laundering.
Again, this is a short, short, very short list.
The office has always been unpopular in Congress. That might be because, as The New York Times editorialized, it does a pretty good job busting wayward congressmen.
Now, with ethics questions clouding the incoming president and his White House administration, Republicans in congress have all but eliminated any formal, government-sanctioned scrutiny over their own financial activities. Tally ho.