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January 02, 2007

ANOTHER TEST FOR PELOSI:

There is so much wrong with the Conyers situation that Pelosi shouldn’t have to think twice about nixing Conyers’ chairmanship. Let us look at how the Conyers scandal epitomizes the ethics mess in the House:

First, releasing its report late on Friday before the New Year’s holiday weekend made it clear that the House “Ethics” Committee intended to minimize public understanding of the Conyers scandal. This is classic Washington Establishment manipulation of the news cycle to insulate itself against public accountability.

Second, Conyers responded to the “Ethics” committee by “accepting responsibility” for a “lack of clarity” in asking aides to work on his re-election campaign while on the official payroll instead of going on a campaign staff, as the law requires, and to do personal chores for him. The allegations came from senior staff members, including a former chief of staff, not interns or other short-term aides who might have questionable motives.

Third, the “Ethics” committee report also concerned a second investigation of Conyers from 2003 on allegations that his aides also worked on the Carol Mosely-Braun presidential campaign and JoAnn Watson’s Detroit City Council race. Would Conyers have applied the same slipshod legal standards to his Bush impeachment effort?

Fourth, the Conyers scandal shows it’s still business as usual for the “Ethics” committee. Pelosi should demand that Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., the committee leaders who signed off on the Conyers report, be removed permanently from the panel and barred from leadership of other House panels.

Finally, Pelosi should heed former White House chief of staff and ex-congressman Leon Panetta, who said “you can attack one party for having a lack of ethics, but if any of your own members have problems, it dulls the message with the American people, they begin to put everybody in the same box.” In other words, whenever one member of the House has an ethics problem, it damages the credibility of all members of the House, including most especially its most visible leader, the speaker.

Jim Wright and Dennis Hastert both suffered from that problem. So will Pelosi, if she's not careful.