September 20, 2004
DeLay investigation dunked?

We should know in another day or two if the House Ethics Committee will use the option of last resort, which is basically to say "we don't feel like it" and call it a partisan deadlock. At least the Democrats on the committee seem to have grown a pair, according to Kos, who chalks it up to pressure from pissed off constituents. (Which reminds me - I need to call Gene Green's office tomorrow. I'm not in his district, but I used to be, and that's close enough for me.) The NYT also vents a little well-deserved spleen on the committee (via Taking On Tom DeLay), as does a coalition of watchdog groups.

Rep. Chris Bell rightly keeps up the pressure as well, reminding the committee of some Westar evidence that they have refused to look at so far. His letter is reproduced below. If the committee weasels out, someone - I don't care who - needs to revive this complaint next session (assuming that DeLay doesn't get a much needed early retirement from his vastly superior opponent). No interest worth serving is served by punting this issue.

UPDATE: The Bell letter has hit the wires. Be sure to check out this Statesman editorial in favor of an outside counsel to do the work the House Ethics Committee is to weeneyish to do. Via ToTD.

Dear Chairman Hefley and Ranking Member Mollohan:

I am writing not to amend my complaint but to remind the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct that Westar Energy commissioned a report which investigated its company's 2002 plan to influence pending federal legislation by making political donations. Included in this plan was a $25,000 donation made to TRMPAC, the political action committee founded and chaired by Rep. DeLay. Westar Energy voluntarily gave the report to the Federal Election Commission, and I again urge the committee to request the report compiled by Mr. Tim Jenkins of O'Connor & Hannan law firm.

In 2002, Westar Energy conducted an internal probe of the company's finances, headed by the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, with the assistance of consultants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The report included allegations of corruption, sweetheart financial deals, unjust enrichment, fraud and a disinformation campaign by former Westar Executive David Wittig.

After receiving the Debevoise & Plimpton report, Westar retained O'Connor & Hannan lawyer Jenkins as expert counsel to investigate the campaign finance issues raised in the initial report. Attorney Jenkins then conducted his own year-long probe into possible illegal political contributions which occurred during the tenure of former Westar executives, David Wittig and Douglas Lake.

On July 12th of this year Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington submitted a Freedom of Information Request for the Westar report. The FOIA request was denied but an appeal has been filed. There is a distinct possibility that the Westar report could add a wealth of new evidence either supporting or refuting Count 1 of the complaint against Rep. DeLay. Since the FOIA request was denied, it seems that the likely avenue for obtaining the report would be through subpoena.

According to committee rules from the 1997 Ethics Committee Task Force Report, a subpoena can only be filed after the creation of an investigative subcommittee. With the knowledge that this report exists and its pertinence to one of the counts in the complaint, the Committee should examine the report prior to final action on the complaint. Therefore, in the interest of examining the total body of evidence, I urge the Committee to take the next step and form an investigative subcommittee in order to subpoena the Westar report.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 20, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

There has been a quiet hrassroots campaign all summer to persuade the House Ethics Committee, and especially its chairman (Joel Hefley, Republican of Colorado), to do the right thing and appoiint an outside expert to investigate the charges against DeLay.

State democratic Party chairmen, organized by Texas Democratic Party chair Charles Soechting, have been particularly energetic. So too have some of the Democratic challengers to Republican members of the ethics panel.

If the ethics committee does not appoint an independent counsel or otherwise choose to buckle to pressure from DeLay and sweep this investigation under the rug, it will be the final proof needed that Congress isn;t serious about policing itself -- and that the political system is broken.

Posted by: Embree Timlin on September 20, 2004 10:03 PM