House Republicans have announced that they will fire House Ethics Committee Special Counsel James Cole after January 21, and eliminate production of a final (post-hearing) report on House Speaker Newt Gingrich's conduct. "It's almost like another Saturday night massacre," said Gary Ruskin, Director of the Congressional Accountability Project.
"House Republicans are conducting a dead-on assault on the Gingrich ethics process," Ruskin said. "They are trying to prevent the Special Counsel from uncovering and documenting basic facts about the Gingrich ethics case."
On January 8th, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee ordered Special Counsel James Cole's contract to be terminated after January 21. "The House Oversight Committee is firing the Special Counsel before his work is finished," Ruskin said.
According to today's New York Times, Gingrich himself helped coordinate House Republican leadership strategy regarding the release of the Statement of Alleged Violation against him, an apparent violation of his agreement with the Investigative Subcommittee not to do so. "That looks like plain duplicity," Ruskin said. "At a minimum, Gingrich's activities violate the spirit of his agreement not to orchestrate the House Republican response to the charges against him," Ruskin said.
Ethics Committee Republicans have unilaterally declared a new and worsened schedule for sanction hearings and the preparation of the Special Counsel's report. Incredibly, Ethics Committee Republicans have announced that the Special Counsel's report will be completed by January 16 -- before Gingrich's sanction hearing. This is a departure from Congressional norms to prepare a final factual report before conducting a hearing. The Special Counsel's report will not include information discovered or generated during the sanction hearing, including the Ethics Committee's reasoning and recommendations regarding the appropriate level of sanction for the Speaker.
The purpose of the sanction hearing is to decide what level of sanction to impose, based on the gravity of the evidence against the Speaker. Given that the evidence is voluminous, it is nearly inconceivable that the evidence could receive a thorough review by the Ethics Committee during the shortened hearing schedule. "This is a bald attempt to subvert the purpose of a sanction hearing, and to prevent production of a thorough final report on this piece of Gingrich case," Ruskin said.
"The House Ethics Committee should immediately release all the documents in the Gingrich ethics case, provide sufficient time for Special Counsel to prepare for the sanction hearing, and allow Special Counsel to prepare a thorough post-hearing report before the full House of Representatives votes on what penalty to apply to Speaker Gingrich," Ruskin said.