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Ethics Committee announces probe of House GOP leader

6:47 PM, Feb 6, 2014   |    comments
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) speaks during a press conference, on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday that it is reviewing misconduct allegations against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House. The committee did not explain the nature of the charges, but the case apparently deals with allegations that McMorris Rodgers improperly mingled congressional and campaign funds.

The review does not imply a violation has occurred, the committee noted.

The case was referred to the Ethics Committee by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which conducted a preliminary review of the allegations. The OCE was created by Congress in 2008 to vet allegations of misconduct and make recommendations to the Ethics Committee for further action.

McMorris Rodgers is the top ranking woman in Republican leadership and was tapped to give the GOP response to the State of the Union Address last week. She chairs the House Republican Conference, the organizational forum for House Republicans.

USA TODAY reported Wednesday that McMorris Rodgers had spent nearly $70,000 on legal services at the end of last year from firms that specialize in congressional investigations, suggesting that investigators may have been exploring the case for months.

McMorris Rodgers' attorney Elliot Berke said the OCE probe has been going on for some time.

"As has become an unfortunate rite of passage for many members of Congress, the OCE regularly refers matters to the House Ethics Committee for further review. Such reviews are virtually automatic, and as the committee always points out, does not indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee," Berke said in a statement.

"The congresswoman and her office cooperated fully with the OCE during its inquiry and have already begun assisting the committee with its review," Berke said. "We are confident that the Committee will ultimately find that the allegations were baseless and that her office always followed all laws, rules and standards of conduct."

An aide close to McMorris Rodgers said Thursday the committee probe involves allegations that she mingled congressional and campaign funds for her late 2012 campaign for conference chairwoman. These campaigns operate like any other organizational leadership race, and the House ethics manual allows for the use of campaign funds for those races. But it also cautions that official house resources - taxpayer funds - should not be mixed with campaign dollars for any activity in such a race.

The aide requested anonymity because details of the probe have not yet been publicly disclosed by either the Ethics Committee or the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The aide said that McMorris Rodgers had closely consulted during her leadership race with both the House Ethics Committee and the Committee on House Administration, and that she believed she was complying with their guidance. The aide also said the allegations were driven by a disgruntled former employee.

McMorris Rodgers' first legal payments payments began a few weeks after USA TODAY published a story in July noting that McMorris Rodgers and other House Republicans were paying a campaign consultant for assistance in their congressional offices.

Lawmakers generally prohibited from using campaign money or other campaign resources for official duties in their congressional offices, with some narrow exceptions.

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