Under pressure for failing to investigate alleged ethics violations by his colleagues, Congressman Joel Hefley of Colorado Springs has written a letter to fellow representatives defending the work of the House Ethics Committee, which he chairs.
Hefley also announced the committee would formally investigate an alleged bribery attempt involving Congressman Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan.
The Ethics Committee has come under growing attack by congressional watchdog groups as media outlets in recent months have reported several ethics scandals involving members of Congress, seemingly without moving the committee to action.
Calling the House ethics process "completely paralyzed," critics have pointed their fingers at Hefley, saying he has failed to show leadership as the committee's chairman [see "Breach of ethics," March 11, available at www.csindy.com].
But in a March 11 letter to fellow members of Congress, Hefley, who is a Republican, and Rep. Alan Mollohan, the Ethics Committee's ranking Democrat, accused their critics of misunderstanding how the committee works.
The committee has launched numerous informal investigations in recent years, some of which are still ongoing, the letter states. But because the committee operates under rules of confidentiality, the media doesn't learn about most of the inquiries.
"We take our responsibilities very seriously," Hefley and Mollohan declared. "We are absolutely committed to taking all reasonable steps to ensure that all House members and staff comply fully with the House rules and standards of conduct."
Last week, the committee announced it would formally investigate allegations that GOP leaders had promised Rep. Smith $100,000 in contributions to the congressional campaign of his son, Brad Smith, in return for the elder Smith's "yes" vote on a Medicare reform bill. The committee had been accused of dragging its feet on the Smith matter.
Though Hefley hasn't appeared too keen on investigating his colleagues, he continues to push for an inquiry into the killing of two American teachers, including former Colorado resident Rick Spier, who were ambushed in Indonesia in August of 2002.
Speaking on the House floor last week, Hefley said the United States should continue to bar the Indonesian army from receiving U.S. training until it cooperates with an investigation of the murders.
A preliminary investigation into the attack indicated that members of the Indonesian army might have been responsible. But the Indonesian army has sabotaged efforts to investigate further, according to Hefley.
Hefley last year won approval of an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which axed $600,000 in funding for training of Indonesian soldiers through the International Military Education and Training program.
Congress should keep up the pressure on Indonesia, Hefley said.
"To the extent that the Indonesian military was involved, the United States should insist on criminal prosecution of all involved parties," he said. "The amendment is important. It gives voice to our commitment that the United States will hold accountable the perpetrators and protectors of terrorism."
Hefley also made it clear last week that he's no big fan of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
By a 398-5 vote, the House of Representatives on March 16 approved a resolution "honoring the life and legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt," praising him for his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II, and for his work to combat polio.
"President Roosevelt's leadership was instrumental in extending freedom and democracy around the globe and uniting the world confronted by tyranny and aggression," the resolution states. "President Roosevelt unified and mobilized the American effort after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and World War II, encouraging patriotism and volunteerism."
Roosevelt continues to be "loved and admired by millions of Americans and by countless others around the world," the resolution continues, adding that "a grateful Nation and world are better off because of President Roosevelt's inimitable leadership."
Hefley, however, disagreed -- casting one of the five votes against the resolution. Another six Republicans voted "present."
Hefley issued no explanation for his vote.
-- Terje Langeland