By FARNOUSH AMIRI | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A congressional ethics watchdog has concluded that U.S. Reps. Marie Newman of Illinois and Doug Lamborn of Colorado may have violated federal law, prompting reviews from the House Ethics Committee.
Separate investigative reports from the Office of Congressional Ethics released Monday detailed a “substantial reason to believe” that Newman, a Democrat, promised federal employment to a political opponent and that Lamborn, a Republican, misused official resources for personal purposes.
Though the ethics office conducts the initial review and makes recommendations, only the House Ethics Committee has the power to punish a lawmaker for wrongdoing. The committee said in a statement Monday that it would review the reports and investigate further.
REP. MARIE NEWMAN, DEMOCRAT OF ILLINOIS
The allegations against Newman surfaced out of a legal dispute involving an employment contract between the Illinois Democrat and Iymen Chehade, a former foreign policy advisor during her successful House campaign in 2020. Newman a progressive lawmaker, unseated Chicago-area Rep. Dan Lipinski, a staunch abortion opponent and one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress at the time.
An attorney representing Newman told the committee in December that the congresswoman “cooperates completely with the review," but, that OCE “has prejudged the matter from the beginning.”
The ethics office report says that at the start of her campaign, Newman made Chehade “certain promises about future employment,” in her congressional office. “Those promises were reduced to a contract signed by both parties,” in December 2018, the report reads.
When Newman did not hire Chehade, he filed a lawsuit to enforce the contract. He claimed that he decided to not run for the congressional seat in 2020 because of the promise that Newman would hire him as a foreign policy advisor during the campaign and then a district or legislative director once she took office. In a motion to dismiss the case, Newman's counsel acknowledged that her contract was in violation of House employment and federal contracting rules.
Newman ended up settling the case with her former adviser and the two signed nondisclosure agreements as part of a settlement. The OEC recommended that the House committee subpoena Chehade and political consulting group LBH Chicago as it conducts its review of its findings.
A spokesperson for Newman said Monday that the OCE review stemmed from a “politically-motivated” complaint from a right-wing organization and that the materials produced during the probe “overwhelmingly demonstrate that the ethics complaint is completely meritless.”
Newman is a former management consultant who started and led an anti-bullying nonprofit. During her campaign for the House, she argued Lipinski no longer reflected the views of the district, which backed Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary. She called herself the “true Democrat” during the race, and said she would fight for Medicare for All, abortion rights and a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally.
REP. DOUG LAMBORN, REPUBLICAN OF COLORADO
The report into Lamborn looks at complaints that lawmaker has misused official resources for personal and non-official purposes. The OCE report included interviews with three current and two former Lamborn staffers as well as interviews with the lawmaker himself.
“The OCE uncovered evidence showing a pattern and practice in Rep. Lamborn’s office of official staff conducting personal and campaign-related tasks for Rep. Lamborn, his wife, and other family members during official work hours, and using official resources,” the report stated.
In a December statement to the committee, an attorney for Lamborn said, “A thorough review of the facts will make it clear to everyone that no ethical violation has occurred, and the same should be dismissed." A request for comment from Lamborn was not immediately returned,
The report includes details about Laborn's wife having access to an official House email account and even at times sleeping in the office with Lamborn. The lawmaker told the ethics office his wife played “a substantial role,” in his congressional office which at times included hiring, firing, and promotions.
“While it is not unusual for spouses to play a role in a congressional office or have an official email account, evidence obtained by the OCE indicated that Mrs. Lamborn had a role in the office that exceeded what is permissible for spouses,” the report continued.
The OCE recommended the House Ethics Committee review other allegations against Lamborn, including that he solicited or accepted improper gifts from subordinates. It also recommended issuing subpoenas to Lamborn and several senior members of his staff.
Lamborn, the eight-term congressman from Colorado Springs, was sued in May by a former staffer for allegedly disregarding coronavirus safety protocols in his Washington office even after he and staff members were infected, letting one of his sons live in the basement of the U.S. Capitol and ordering staff to run personal errands for his family.
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