My fondest hope for the soon-to-be newly minted Republican-led government was that lawmakers wouldn’t overplay their hand.
Well, that went out the window earlier this week —  even before the GOP officially takes the reins of power in all three branches of government — when House Republicans met in secret to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
(Congressional ethics, now there’s an oxymoron.)
Thankfully, the GOP came to its senses when President-elect Donald Trump swatted them down.
Trump called them out with this tweet Tuesday:
"With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority?"
House GOPers  abruptly reversed themselves and dropped the plan.
What are these people thinking? What about all that “draining the swamp” talk?
Isn’t that precisely what an independent OCE is supposed to do?
On background, the OCE was created in 2008 in response to a few bribery and corruption cases in Congress.
Before the OCE came along, the House Ethics Committee was the entity responsible for policing House members.
Yeah, right. Congressmen are going to police themselves with regard to their ethics. It’s a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse, except in this case, the hens are taxpayers.
The notion of neutering the OCE gained traction when members of both parties went on a trip to Azerbaijan.
According to reporting by Case Michael for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project — — that trip was quite a scheme.
Here’s his take:
In May of 2013, the government of Azerbaijan, via its State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), injected $750,000 into an obscure Texas-based non-profit, the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ).
The assembly then flipped the funds into a series of secondary non-profits – a constellation of US-based 501(c)(3) organizations scattered across America, all pushing Turkic interests.
A few weeks later, nine members of the U.S. Congress touched down in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, flown and feted by those very funds. And it was quite a gathering: sumptuous dinners, fireworks displays, gifts of hand-woven carpets, crystal tea sets, silk scarves, and DVDs praising the country’s president—all free of charge, and costing well in excess of the permissible limits of gifts to Congress.
... It was also, according to a recent report from the US’s Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), one of the most egregious ethics violations Washington has seen ...
Per the OCE, the government of Azerbaijan and SOCAR appear to have secretly financed the junket for these nine lawmakers and dozens of staffers. And those scattered non-profits were but a group of middle-men, organizations who apparently deceived the House Ethics Committee repeatedly about the true sources of their funding.
The Ethics Committee is supposed to investigate lobbying and travel violations by members of the House of Representatives.
But, of course, the Ethics Committee is made up of members of that same House. And the members involved denied any knowledge that the Azerbaijani government paid for the trip.
So even in the face of wanton violations like this — and being lied to by its own members — the Ethics Committee stonewalled the OCE.
From Michael’s report:
The OCE, meanwhile, can only compile evidence from those willing to cooperate; its writ remains only as strong as the Ethics Committee’s willingness to enforce the rules. So when the Ethics Committee discounts—or abets—blatant abuses of a loophole, there is little the OCE can do.
Here’s what Craig Holman, a congressional ethics expert with the Washington-based nonprofit organization Public Citizen, said about the OCE’s report: “You’ve got a foreign government participating in trying to lie to the US Congress, and hoodwink the American public. … [And] the House Ethics Committee tried violating congressional rules and burying the OCE report.”
The globetrotting Congressfolks stuck to their story that they had no idea the trip was paid for by the Azerbaijani government. They ultimately were cleared by the House Ethics Committee.
Of course they were.
Comes now the Republican-led Congress to tell us we don’t need that pesky OCE around anymore.
Well, at least they got shamed into reversing themselves. And to be fair, there were quite a few members of Congress who thought it was a bad idea in the first place.
GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of California said this to the Associated Press: "We were elected on a promise to drain the swamp and starting the session by relaxing ethics rules is a very bad start."
Good for him.
And good for Trump, although, I’m not really sure why he had to put that qualifying “as unfair as it may be,” phrase in his Tweet.
Enforcing ethics rules is unfair? Really?
So now I have a new fondest hope — that Republicans will learn from this experience and not overplay their hand as a majority party.
I’m not holding my breath.