Ethics panel rebukes McDermott
In an end-of-year effort to wipe longstanding cases off its agenda, the House ethics committee on Monday rebuked U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott for leaking...
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — In an end-of-year effort to wipe longstanding cases off its agenda, the House ethics committee on Monday rebuked U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott for leaking an illegally taped phone call between Republican congressmen a decade ago.
The committee's carefully worded report said that McDermott, D-Seattle, did not violate congressional rules of conduct, which state that a member must behave "in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives."
However, the 25-page report said McDermott's actions were "inconsistent with the spirit of the applicable rules and represented a failure on his part to meet his obligations" as the ranking member of the ethics committee at the time.
"Representative McDermott's secretive disclosures to the news media ... risked undermining the ethics process," the report said.
In a statement, McDermott said, "I am pleased with the conclusion" of the panel. A spokesman for ethics committee chairman Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.
The committee's belated actions — the case against McDermott was filed with the ethics committee two years ago — and its attempt to rebuke him without punishing him may be a reflection of the power shift following last month's elections that put Democrats in the majority.
One of the Republicans recorded in the taped phone call was Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has sued McDermott in federal court for leaking the tape. That case remains unresolved. Until the Nov. 7 elections, Boehner was the House majority leader; now he is minority leader.
"If they had issued their conclusions six months ago, I doubt they would have reached the same conclusion," said political analyst Norman Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank.
Ornstein noted that earlier this year, Republicans appeared poised to keep the House majority, putting Boehner in a powerful position and making it easier to punish McDermott.
McDermott was re-elected in November with 79 percent of the vote.
The controversy began in January 1997 when Democratic supporters gave him a tape of a phone call between then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Boehner, and other GOP leaders plotting a way to deal publicly with an ethics investigation of Gingrich.
McDermott leaked it to The New York Times and other papers, whose resulting stories embarrassed Republicans who had participated in the call.
Though McDermott defended himself at the time, saying he thought the GOP leaders were trying to circumvent a promise by Gingrich not to oppose the ethics panel's review of him, McDermott was forced to resign from the ethics committee.
Boehner sued McDermott in 1998, alleging violations of his First Amendment rights, and won in 2004. The case is now in its second appellate review, having already reached the Supreme Court and been sent back to a lower panel of judges.
There is no testimony from McDermott in the ethics committee's report. Members relied on his sworn deposition in the Boehner lawsuit.
Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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