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Congress ethics watchdog says House reps from Illinois, Colorado may have misused power

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Congress ethics watchdog says House reps from Illinois, Colorado may have misused power
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., has been accused of misusing official resources. Fiel Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A nonpartisan congressional panel said it is reviewing two House lawmakers over accusations that they violated a slew of federal ethics rules by misusing their positions.

The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics separately released reports on Monday recommending the House ethics committee to continue investigating Reps. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and Marie Newman, D-Ill., after concluding that there was "substantial reason to believe" both committed offenses.

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Lamborn is accused of misusing official resources while Newman is accused of promising employment to a primary opponent in exchange for political support, the reports said.

Both lawmakers have rejected the accusations.

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The committee said in its report on Lamborn that it unanimously voted to recommend continuing the investigation as at least five of his current and former staffers said they performed personal tasks for him and his wife, Jeanie.

"The OCE uncovered evidence showing a pattern and practice in Rep. Lamborn's office of official staff conducting personal and campaign-related tasks for Rep. Lamborn, his wife and other family members during official work hours and using official resources," the report said.

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Among the campaign-related or personal tasks Lamborn asked staffers to do during work hours included picking up mail, moving furniture at his home and planning and hosting a celebration following the naturalization of his daughter-in-law, according to the report.

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The investigation also detailed his wife's involvement in the office, stating she had an official House email account and was "deeply involved in all personnel aspects of Rep. Lamborn's office, including but not limited to hiring, firing and promotions."

"Evidence obtained by the OCE indicated that Mrs. Lamborn had a role in the office that exceeded what is permissible for spouses," the report said.

It also found that the lawmaker and his wife may have solicited or accepted improper gifts from subordinates.

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Lamborn's counsel, former congressman Gregg Harper, rejected the accusations and said his client will be cleared of all charges.

"It is sad that OCE always takes the nefarious interpretation over an innocent interpretation," he wrote in a rebuttal. "The congressman now puts his case into the House Ethics Committee. He intends to cooperate fully with them just as he did with all the reasonable requests of OCE. He expects to be vindicated because he conscientiously follows ethics rules to the best of his ability."

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In the report on Newman, the committee said it unanimously voted to recommend further investigation of the congresswoman for allegedly promising Iymen Chehade, former foreign policy advisor to her successful 2020 campaign, employment on her staff if he didn't run for the congressional seat.

According to the OEC, the two entered into a contract in 2018 in which Newman promised to hire Chehade to her staff with an annual salary between $135,000 and $140,000.

After Newman won the election but didn't hire him, Chehade filed a lawsuit, sparking a case during which the lawmaker and her counsel acknowledged in a motion to dismiss that the deal violated House employment and federal contracting rules.

The pair eventually settled the case and signed non-disclosure agreements, it said.

"The OCE found that Mr. Chehade's policy expertise was not the only reason she contracted to employ him in the future," the report said. "Instead, Rep. Newman likely was motivated to enter the agreement to avoid competing against Mr. Chehade in the next Democratic primary."

The board also recommended subpoenaing Chehade as he declined to cooperate with the investigation.

Newman's counsel, Brian Svoboda, rejected the accusations, stating Chehade was never running for congress.

"The facts, which OCE consistently omitted whenever they favored Rep. Newman, show that virtually every element of the allegation is false: that she did not offer employment in exchange for political support, but rather on merits, to someone who was not a primary opponent, and in any case before she was a candidate," Svoboda wrote. "A swift, strong committee dismissal of the referral is necessary and just."

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