Johnson criticizes effort to gut office

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, January 4, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, spoke out against leaders of his party’s abandoned attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics.

House Republicans, in a 179-74, closed door vote of their party on the Monday federal holiday, approved a package which would have eviscerated the independent body created in 2008 to investigate allegations of misconduct by lawmakers after several bribery and corruption scandals sent members to prison.

The package would have gone to the full House for a vote on Tuesday, but, facing heavy criticism from watchdog groups and the media following the vote, Republican leaders called for an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon to abandon the effort.

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“He was against it,” Juli Stephens, the Ironton field representative for Johnson, said of the Congressman’s stance on the Monday vote.

While members’ votes were not announced publicly, Johnson, who began his new term this week, said on Tuesday that he had opposed the move.

“Last night, I voted against a change to the rules of the House of Representatives that will place the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee,” Johnson said in a statement. “While I certainly understand the importance of due process, I believe this change is a mistake. It is critically important that all public servants — across the public spectrum — are held to the highest ethical standards.”

The OCE was created in March 2008 after the cases of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., who served more than seven years in prison on bribery and other charges; as well as cases involving former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who was charged in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and pleaded guilty to corruption charges, and former Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., convicted on corruption in a separate case.

Democrats took control of the chamber in 2007, with incoming speaker pledging at the time to “drain the swamp” as the scandals mounted, and passed the ethics reforms the next year.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story