Fake News About the Office of Congressional Ethics

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol September 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Pelosi answered questions on a range of topics, including congressional negotiations on a new continuing resolution. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The mainstream media are abuzz with claims that House Republicans have voted to “gut” or “eviscerate” the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), or to strip it of its independence.

Perpetual House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claimed Republicans had “eliminated” the oversight body, and linked the move to President-elect Donald Trump, claiming that the House Republicans’ move represents a violation of Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

The story qualifies as “fake news,” and the fact that it is being repeated by so many outlets does not make the it any less fake.

First of all, the change — voted on by Republicans on Monday as part of their larger rules package — has nothing to do with Trump. The House sets its own rules, and it would actually be an encroachment on the separation of powers for Trump to tell it to do otherwise. Furthermore, Republicans have been in control of the House since 2011 and have left the OCE alone.

What Republicans actually did was address two lingering criticisms of the OCE, which was created by Pelosi’s Democrats after they took the House in 2006 (and before she undermined her own promises to “drain the swamp” by taking advantage of her position to buy Visa stock, while softening regulation on credit card companies).

The first criticism of the OCE is that it was too frequently confused with the House Ethics Committee, to which the OCE would refer complaints for further inquiry.

The second, related complaint is that leaks from the OCE, or statements about its investigations, tarnished the reputations of those it was investigating. Those initiating the investigation could remain anonymous, meaning that it was possible, at least theoretically, for entirely facetious charges to be made against a political target without any opportunity for the accused to question their accusers. (Supporters of the OCE said that flaw was a necessary evil to toughen oversight on Capitol Hill.)

The new rules approved Monday change the name of the OCE to the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” to clarify it does not have the same status of the House Ethics Committee. In addition, NPR notes, the rules “prevent [OCE] staff from making public statements independent of the House Ethics Committee and prevents it from investigating anonymous tips.”

NPR argues — in a news story — that the changes “weaken” the OCE. Rep. Bob Goodlatte says the changes “strengthen” it.

For his part, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan disagreed with the way the new changes have taken place — i.e. outside of a bipartisan process — rather than the substance of the changes.

But regardless, the changes do not “eliminate” the OCE, nor do they “gut” it. Moreover, criticism of the OCE has been bipartisan (though the case against it has not been clear-cut).

What is not bipartisan is the media’s “fake news” approach to the rule changes, which is both exaggerated and agenda-driven.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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