There’s a newly-elected Secretary of the House Republican Conference in town: Rep. John Carter of Texas. He spent over 20 years seated on the bench as a tough Texas district judge before his election to Congress in 2002. A staunch conservative, Carter is now putting those judicial skills to use as a House ethics watchdog from his new post within the Conference.
On Wednesday, Judge Carter, as he is affectionately called by his colleagues, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demanding answers for her recent behavior in relation to the ethics investigation into multiple incidence of questionable conduct by House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). Speaker Pelosi last week issued a news release stating she had "assurances" that the Rangel investigation would conclude in early January, in spite of growing evidence of wrongdoing by Rangel.
In his letter to Pelosi, Carter said, “I was chagrined to learn that you issued a press release last week announcing that you ‘have been assured’ that the Ethics Committee’s investigation of Rep. Charles Rangel will be concluded by January 3, 2009. As a former member of the Ethics Committee, you are no doubt acutely aware that House rules expressly prohibit Members and staff of the Ethics Committee from discussing any aspect of an ongoing ethics investigation with individuals outside the committee.”
Carter went on to voice concerns over Pelosi’s public explanation that her “assurances” came not from the Ethics Committee but from her own staff. Carter reminded the Speaker that her press release “assuring” the media of the end date of the investigation suggested inside personal knowledge of the investigation. As Carter points out, “Indeed, no responsible news organization would have printed your announcement had they understood it reflected nothing more than speculation — or perhaps wishful thinking — by your own staff. … Otherwise, the only other plausible purpose for your press release would be to put public pressure on the Ethics Committee to wrap up its work regarding Rep. Rangel before the House approves new committee chairmen for the 111th Congress during the first week of January.”
Judge Carter says that regardless of Pelosi’s source of "assurances," her press release could have a chilling effect on the investigative process. "Creating a public expectation that the Ethics Committee would soon conclude its inquiry could be viewed as an attempt to fend off growing — and legitimate — demands that Rep. Rangel step aside as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means while the Ethics Committee conducts its probe into his conduct."
Carter called on Pelosi to "address immediately the very real questions this incident raises about whether your office has sought to improperly influence the conduct, scope, timing or any other aspect of an ongoing House ethics investigation."
Carter says that his experience of over his two-decades on the bench in Texas tells him that attempting to influence an investigative body would be considered jury-tampering.
Good news on the horizon, folks. There is a bona fide conservative newly-elected to the sixth most powerful Republican position in Congress. And he’s an ethics hawk.