House Ethics Committee Admonishes DeLay, Miller, Smith Over Medicare Bribe Allegations
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct on Thursday unanimously voted to issue a rare "public admonishment" against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for allegedly attempting last November to offer his political support to Rep. Nick Smith's (R-Mich.) son in exchange for the congressional member's vote on the Medicare legislation, the Dallas Morning News reports (Gillman, Dallas Morning News, 10/1). In December, Smith, who plans to retire this year, said that unnamed Republican lawmakers promised to donate $100,000 to the congressional campaign of his son, Brad Smith, in exchange for his support on the Medicare bill. However, Smith later retracted the comment and said that allegations of bribery are "technically incorrect." According to Smith, some Republican lawmakers had said that they would oppose his son's campaign if Smith did not vote in favor of the Medicare legislation, but they did not offer to donate funds to the campaign, as previous reports had indicated. Smith ultimately voted against the Medicare legislation.
In March, the House ethics committee announced that a four-member subcommittee would "conduct a full and complete inquiry" into the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice also have launched investigations into the case (California Healthline, 6/22). The ethics panel indicated that it would take no further action in the case, the Washington Post reports.
According to the ethics committee's 62-page report, Smith told investigators DeLay approached him on the House floor prior to the final Medicare vote and "told him that he would personally endorse Representative Smith's son in the Republican primary" if Smith "voted in favor of the Medicare legislation." Smith said DeLay told him "that's my last offer," causing Smith to "tea[r] up" in an exchange that lasted "about eight seconds." DeLay testified that he said "words to the effect of: 'I will personally endorse your son. That's my final offer,'" but he noted that Smith "first raised the subject of his son's campaign" in an apparent effort to "see what I would say."
The report said DeLay had dismissed a similar overture from Smith several weeks earlier but this time said he "would have made good on his promise and endorsed Brad Smith" (Babington, Washington Post, 10/1).
The report "reserved its most serious criticism for Smith," stating that he "failed to exercise judgment and restraint" when he claimed that he had been offered a bribe, CQ Today reports (Ferrechio, CQ Today, 10/1). The report concluded that Smith had not been offered any money, and it stated that Smith's allegations stemmed from "speculation or exaggeration" that "risked impugning the reputation of the House" (Washington Post, 10/1).
The committee also admonished Smith for failing to "fully cooperate with the investigation," the AP/Detroit News reports (Margasak, AP/Detroit News, 10/1).
According to the report, DeLay's "conduct could support a finding that ... [he] violated House rules. ... It is improper for a member to offer or link support for the personal interests of another member as part of a quid pro quo to achieve a legislative goal" (Washington Post, 10/1). According to the Morning News, the committee "took pains to differentiate between ordinary 'log-rolling' ... [and] bribery involving personal gain" (Morning News, 10/1).
The report stated, "The issues raised by the conduct of the majority leader in this matter are novel and the implications of such conduct have never before been addressed or resolved by the [ethics committee]. Indeed, the majority leader's testimony indicates that he did not believe that he acted improperly under House rules during his encounter with Representative Smith" (Roll Call, 9/30). The 10-member bipartisan committee's "extraordinary finding" -- reached after a six-month investigation -- regarding DeLay could place "some limits on his strong-arm tactics," the Morning News reports (Dallas Morning News, 10/1). However, admonishment, which is usually done privately, is the "least severe punishment that can be meted out by the ethics committee," Roll Call reports (Bresnahan, Roll Call, 9/30).
The report "also admonished" Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) for making comments about Smith's son that appeared to be "a threat of retaliation" for Smith's vote against the Medicare bill, the Post reports (Washington Post, 10/1). According to the report, Miller made a statement to Smith "that referenced the congressional candidacy" of Smith's son, and Smith "fairly interpreted Representative Miller's statements to him during the vote as a threat of retaliation against him for voting in opposition to the bill. The report found that Miller committed "a discreet violation of the rules," but that it did not demonstrate a pattern of misconduct (AP/Detroit News, 10/1).
In addition, the report noted that Smith was not offered any "endorsement or financial support" for his son's campaign from the National Republican Congressional Committee, and it dismissed allegations of improper conduct on the part of Reps. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) and James Walsh (R-N.Y.) (Davis, CongressDaily, 9/30). However, the report noted, Cunningham and Walsh did "make statements [to Smith] referencing the candidacy" of Brad Smith.
The report recommended changing House rules to limit access of Cabinet members to the House floor during debate, in an "apparent rebuke" to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who was present during the roll call vote and "worked with GOP leaders to pass the bill," CongressDaily reports. However, the report notes, Thompson's presence "did not involve any offers of improper 'special deals.'"
The report recommends banning Cabinet members from the floor during debate unless they are former House members (CongressDaily, 9/30). The committee had sent Thompson 13 questions concerning how "he came to be present on the House floor during the vote" and what he discussed with Smith, according to the report (CQ Today, 10/1).
DeLay wrote in a statement that he accepted the committee's "guidance regarding a novel and very specific subject matter." DeLay added, "During my entire career I have worked to advance my party's legislative agenda. I would never knowingly violate the rules of the House. I deeply believe that as members of the House we must conduct ourselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on this institution" (Dallas Morning News, 10/1). Miller said she accepted the report's findings that "I may have committed a 'discreet violation of the rules,'" adding, "I also agree with the committee's finding that there was no evidence adduced of a pattern of misconduct" (AP/Detroit News, 10/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.