Lofgren’s Bad Day

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It’s safe to say that Thursday was an eminently bad day for Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat. Lofgren, chair of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, thought much of the news cycle that day would revolve around a 20-page report clearing Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican who had been referred to the committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) for “an appearance of a conflict of interest” over his wife’s involvement with a renewable fuels cooperative. The nearly 200-page report is not exactly flattering to the OCE and sources say Lofgren has long wanted to reclaim the first line of ethics investigations back directly under her committee. The OCE, an independent, bipartisan board of six appointees, was created in 2006 to “drain the swamp,” as Speaker Pelosi likes to say, after years of lackluster oversight at the Standards Committee.

But, then, a leak from the Standards Committee itself blew up the day. Lofgren ran to the House floor, announcing between votes that, “I regret to report that there was a cyber hacking incident of a confidential document of the committee,” she said. “A number of members have been contacted by the Washington Post that is in possession of the document.” The Post this morning led with a large headline: Dozens in Congress under ethics inquiry. The 22-page document, which includes ongoing OCE reviews ranging from queries of legality by members to stage two investigations, ironically proves the efficacy of the OCE – exactly what Lofgren didn’t want. She also surely got an earful from the dozens of angry members whose investigations and contacts have now been inadvertently outed, the preponderance of whom happen to be Democrats (I’m sure the leadership is loving that). And the repercussions have only just begun. The Post followed up that headline with a story about seven investigations into the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense (five Democrats, including the panel’s chairman Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, and two Republicans). And another story this morning about four members whose tax information has been requested by OCE – Reps. Eliot Engel, Doris Matsui, Edolphus Towns (chairman of the Oversight Committee) and Pete Stark – all Democrats.

Meanwhile, questions are also being raised about the nature of the leak. Lofgren first said it was a hacker but then said it was inadvertently posted from home by a junior staffer on a peer-to-peer public site and that that staffer has now been fired. That raises all kinds of questions: why are junior staffers taking sensitive investigative materials home with them and what kind of security are their home computers equipped with, as PC Magazine wonders? At any rate – with the information out there, there’s plenty of leads for reporters to follow. Democrats, had better brace for an uncomfortable few months of ethics questions – after all they’re the one’s in control of the swamp these days.