You almost have to be impressed by the audacity of it. It’s a shameful thing to say, but you sort of expect
a few several many a significant number of politicians to be, well, corrupt. It’s a given, right? They have power and we all know what power does, right (spoiler — it corrupts).
But Jeebus on a nickel, what Congressional Republicans did last night? Completely and totally fucking shameless. They gathered together in a conference and voted to rip the balls right off the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Wait, it’s worse than that. They did it in secret. Wait, still worse than that. They did it on a Federal holiday.
When was the last time Congressional Republicans voluntarily went to work on a Federal holiday?
Okay — some boring but necessary history. Back on January 30, 1798 (that’s right, we’re talking the end of the 18th century here), Congress was in the process of impeaching a guy named William Blount (who’d borrowed heavily to invest in land along the Mississippi River, and when it looked like France might gain control of Louisiana and thereby control the mouth of the river, tried to make a deal with Britain to seize both Florida and Louisiana in order to keep the French out and allow Blount to sell his river land for a buttload of coin). During the impeachment process, while the House was in session, a guy named Roger Griswold (who belonged to the Federalist party) was trying to get the attention of another guy, Matthew Lyon (who was a Democratic-Republican — and yes, that was an actual political party back then). Lyon was deliberately ignoring Griswold, who got pissed off and called Lyon a ‘scoundrel’. That was considered a profanity back then. Lyon responded by spitting tobacco juice on Griswold.
These two guys continued to fuss at each other for a couple more weeks, then Griswold went apeshit (which, it turns out, is NOT a legal defense) and attacked Lyon with his cane (gentlemen routinely carried canes back then — go figure). Lyon retreated to a fireplace, seized a pair of tongs, and the two went at it. They had to be tackled and separated by other members of Congress.
Congress decided they shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of shit happening at work, so they formed the House Committee on Ethics. The committee would be responsible for investigating and punishing breaches of ethics and decorum by House members. The new Ethics Committee looked into the fuss between Lyon and Griswold and they came to a decision — which basically was this: Don’t pull that sort of shit again, especially while Congress is in session. In other words, they did bupkes.
And that, not surprisingly, set the precedence for a LOT of decisions by the House Committee on Ethics. When you put members of Congress in charge of policing the behavior of members of Congress, you end up with a LOT of Don’t pull that sort of shit again decisions. Which is why, in 2008, after a couple hundred years of bupkes, Congressional Democrats led an effort to create the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, non-partisan entity tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct against members of the House of Representatives and/or their staff.
That sounds great, doesn’t it. But the OCE was pretty limited in what it could do. There were limits on how long they could investigate (about three months at most) and they didn’t have any subpoena power. At the end of their investigation, the OCE turned in a report to the House Committee on Ethics. Yeah, that’s the same committee that’s mostly done bupkes for two centuries — but the OCE was also required to make their report public, which put more pressure on the HCE to actually DO something. And the OCE could, if necessary, refer allegations of criminal conduct to prosecutors.
Which is probably why House Republicans wanted rip off the OCE’s balls (tiny as they were). Here’s what the Republicans did (and remember, they did this in secret on a holiday). First, they changed the name of the agency. Now it’ll be the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. What were once ‘ethics investigations’ are now just ‘complaints’. They also removed OCE’s power to investigate anonymous tips, and they’ve prevented the OCE from referring ‘complaints’ of criminality to prosecutors. Oh, and that public report? The one that might embarrass Congress into action? That’s history.
The jackass who sponsored this legislative turd is Republican Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. He claims it will improve the due process rights for the House members who find themselves under investigation. This is the only time in modern history a Republican has shown any concern about anybody’s due process rights.
What amazes me — and probably shouldn’t — is how open they were about this. Yeah, they met in secret on a holiday, but after de-balling the OCE, they actually announced it. Basically, this is a proclamation that Republicans under a Trump administration intend to Make Corruption Great Again.
Trump would probably want to put a portrait of William Blount on the new twenty-dollar bill. If he knew who William Blount was. And I’m positive he doesn’t. By the end of the first Trump term, I fully expect the motto of the United States will switch from E Pluribus Unum to “I Got Mine, Jack.” Or, if you prefer it in Russian, Я получил мое, домкрат.
Editorial Note: In case you’re wondering what happened to William Blount, the guy who started all this, the House voted to impeach him. However; the Senate refused to convict him, and Blount returned to Tennessee. There he worked to fuck over the Cherokee natives who were losing their land to settlers. After he was accused of working to fuck over the Cherokee natives, Blount sued his accuser for libel. The suit was dismissed by a Judge Campbell. Blount managed to get elected to the Tennessee State Senate, at which point he worked to impeach Judge Campbell. The Tennessee House voted to impeach the judge, but the Senate refused to convict him.
Ethics is some tricky shit.