November 19, 1997
The Honorable Joel Hefley, Chairman
The Honorable Zoe Lofgren, Ranking Minority Member
Investigative Subcommittee in the Matter of Representative Bud Shuster
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
U.S. House of Representatives
HT-2, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
RE: Appointment of Outside Counsel in the Matter of Representative Bud Shuster
Dear Chairman Hefley and Ranking Minority Member Lofgren:
On November 14, 1997, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct ("Ethics Committee") established an investigative subcommittee in the matter of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Elmer Greinert ("Bud") Shuster. We are writing to urge you to appoint an outside counsel to carry out this investigation.
On September 5, 1996, the Congressional Accountability Project filed an ethics complaint against Chairman Shuster, and called for appointment of an outside counsel to investigate the tangled web of legislative, financial, personal, and political ties between Chairman Shuster and Ann Eppard, a transportation lobbyist. Regrettably, neither the Ethics Committee nor its investigative subcommittee have yet appointed an outside counsel to investigate the Shuster matter.
It is the responsibility of the Ethics Committee, and its investigative subcommittees, to conduct thorough investigations of House Members who may have violated federal law or House Rules.
As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Investigative Subcommittee, you have been placed in an untenable and unenviable position: the Member you are charged with investigating has substantial power over you, your constituents, and perhaps your own political careers. Chairman Bud Shuster is one of the most powerful Members of Congress. As Chairman of the Transportation Committee, he decides where roads are built, and roads are votes. You may perform your duties as Chairman and Ranking Member under credible fear of retribution from Chairman Shuster. Alternatively, Chairman Shuster can provide new funding for transportation projects within your districts.
Given this conflict of interest, you should appoint an outside counsel to undertake a thorough investigation of Chairman Shuster, to safeguard public confidence in the Investigative Subcommittee's work product.
The Ethics Committee has a well-documented recent history of investigative failures, delay and incompetence.(1) These failures took place when the Committee tried to conduct its own internal investigations, without benefit of outside counsels. Given this history, refusal to appoint an outside counsel would further erode public confidence in the House ethics process.
The investigative phase is the most important and sensitive part of the congressional ethics process. A thorough, impartial, non-partisan, independent investigation of Chairman Shuster, conducted by an outside counsel, would likely provide a trustworthy foundation for any further action by the Ethics Committee. We strongly urge you to heed the warnings of Richard Phelan, the special outside counsel in the case of former Speaker Jim Wright, who wrote that "the very integrity of Congress depends on its ability to police itself. In most cases, our elected representatives have determined that justice can only be done when an outside counsel - an independent lawyer who can investigate allegations of wrongdoing and stand up to powerful politicians - is assigned to the inquiry."(2)
The most important lesson of the Gingrich ethics case was that the hiring
of outside counsel James Cole led to a thorough and credible investigation
of the matters that Cole was instructed to investigate. We hope you will
put that lesson to good use by swiftly appointing an outside counsel in
the Shuster case.
cc: The Honorable Jim McCrery
The Honorable Chet Edwards
2. Richard J. Phelan, "Do Unto Gingrich." The New York Times, January 3, 1995.