After the Republicans were roundly criticized for trying to gut an independent congressional ethics watchdog agency, they’ve managed to sneak through a much more insidious “tweak” to a standing ethics rule that will protect criminal politicians.
Last week, House Republicans altered a rule to allow members to hide their records from ethics and even criminal investigations.
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the tweak gives congressional politicians the right to conceal any information they produce — including dubious expenditures and budgets — should the Office of Congressional Ethics or the Department of Justice decide to investigate them for wrongdoing.
The change makes any member of Congress the owner and principal controller of all records he or she creates. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the documents in question pertain to the public interest, such as misuse of public funds or the commission of a crime while in office.
“Records created, generated, or received by the congressional office of a Member … are exclusively the personal property of the individual member … and such Member … has control over such records,” the regulation states.
The new regulation allows any lawmaker being investigated for a crime, such as misuse of taxpayer money, for example, to exercise their new right to withhold vital evidence like spending records from law enforcement. If this rule had been in place earlier, many congressional members might not have been successfully prosecuted for corruption.
“Why on earth would Congress now create barriers to investigation and subpoenas of a member’s spending records?” Center for Responsive Politics Sheila Krumholz executive director said to the Fiscal Times Monday. “This only benefits the incumbent politicians who passed this rule and those who would flout it, not the system and certainly not the public.”
Allowing House members complete control of their records renders the “critical element of independent oversight” over government records and the activities of elected officials useless, she added.
So now under President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration, House Republicans will have extra insulation against potential ethics violations, including criminal activity. And Trump seems for the most part to be okay with that. His transition team has yet to offer comment on the new rule.
This is the perfect example of why it’s going to be vital for the American people to pay more attention to what’s going on in Washington. The Trump administration will use things like absurd and offensive tweets to keep you distracted from important things like this. And don’t believe for a second that this will be the last rule “modification” or change the Republicans are going to try to sneak under the radar.
The American people are now tasked with the sobering responsibility of protecting the very foundations of their democracy or risk losing it forever.
No pressure, America.