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Happy New Year, and welcome back to the swamp, where the federal government remains shut down. Non-essential services apparently include the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department staffers who update the public database of Foreign Agent Registration Act filers, so the research tools at our disposal this week were a bit more limited than usual.
But one notable feature of our federal government will reopen this week. The General Services Administration managed to find the money to open the Old Post Office clocktower, a major D.C. tourism draw that happens to sit directly above President Donald Trump’s hotel, from which he can still draw revenue.
Outgoing GOP Rep Tried ‘to Run Out the Clock’ on House Ethics Investigation
The House Ethics Committee released a scathing report on Wednesday evening hammering outgoing Republican Rep. Tom Garrett for enlisting staffers to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife. The basic gist: Garrett broke the rules and is getting away with it given the ethics committee’s lack of jurisdiction now that he’s leaving office. But that didn’t stop it from publicly shaming him.
Among the committee’s specific findings:.
- Staff were instructed to run errands for the Virginia congressman and Mrs. Garrett, including carrying groceries, moving furniture in their apartment, dog-sitting, scheduling medical appointments, buying cigarettes for the congressman, driving and babysitting the Garretts’ children, changing the oil in their car, and even sending in high-school application materials on behalf of one of their daughters using an official House of Representatives email address.
- Mrs. Garrett was frequently verbally abusive toward staff, and even used her influence over personnel decisions to attempt to fire staffers she deemed insufficiently helpful or cooperative.
- Staff feared retaliation by the congressman for reporting potentially improper conduct to House ethics officials.
- Even after Ethics Committee staff briefed the congressman and his staff on applicable ethics rules, Garrett continued making improper requests of his staff.
- Garrett was observed drinking alcohol during “telephone town halls” with constituents, and he also missed meetings due to persistent hangovers. One witness told the committee that he had seen Garrett drinking on the way to a House floor vote.
But perhaps the most damning aspect of the committee’s report is its recounting of the apparent lengths to which the congressman and his wife went to hamstring the investigation into their conduct. The goal, the committee suggested, was to forestall a finding of wrongdoing long enough for Garrett to retire and avoid having to repay taxpayers for resources he improperly steered toward personal uses.
According to the committee’s report, Garrett’s counsel repeatedly requested more time to produce documents, then gave the committee a mere 10 pages of text messages. After repeated requests for additional documentation, Garrett produced some more records—two weeks ago.
Even that document production omitted responsive records that the committee reported getting from other staffers, witnesses, and interviewees.
Mrs. Garrett herself refused to be interviewed by the committee, which lacked the authority to compel any testimony.
All of this stonewalling occurred after a Politico report first detailed allegations against the Garretts by current and former staff members. Shortly after that story dropped, Garrett announced he would not seek re-election and would get treatment for alcohol abuse.
Garrett’s retirement means that as of Thursday he’s no longer subject to Ethics Committee jurisdiction. That means he can’t be forced to repay misspent funds to the Treasury, as the Ethics Committee generally requires when it finds this sort of wrongdoing.
“The Garretts’ delays and last-minute productions,” the committee concluded, “raise concerns that they were trying to run out the clock.”
Get the data: