News reports in today's New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Roll Call indicate that House Majority Leader Dick Armey is trying to change the membership of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in the middle of the investigation of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
House Majority Leader Armey's effort could be seen as an attempt to rig the ethics process to protect the Speaker against well-documented charges of violations of federal tax laws. Majority Leader Armey's proposal undermines the public trust in the House ethics process.
The near collapse of the House ethics process is one of the worst legacies of the 104th Congress. During the last two years, the Congressional Accountability Project has repeatedly criticized the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for investigative sluggishness, failure to authorize outside counsel to investigate ethics complaints, the narrow mandate of James Cole's investigation of Speaker Gingrich, failure to initiate investigations based on credible and well-documented news reports, the unwillingness of the Ethics Committee to receive and evaluate documents related to the Gingrich case, failure to thoroughly investigate the activities of Joe Gaylord within the Speaker's office, failure to interview key witnesses and subpoena documents related to telecommunications entrepreneur Donald Jones's activities within the Speaker's offices, and failure to properly sanction the Speaker even though the Committee has repeatedly found him to have violated House Rules and other standards of Congressional conduct.
Any efforts by members of the Ethics Committee to quit at this important juncture must be understood in the context of the Ethics Committee's abysmal record of failure upon failure to uphold the public trust. The members of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct who began the Gingrich ethics case must see it through to completion.