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Zoe Lofgren sued by fellow Dem over censure

Rep. Zoe Lofgren has been sued by another Democratic House member who claims he was wrongly censured for ethical violations while Lofgren chaired the Ethics Committee.

The federal lawsuit filed Monday in Washington, D.C., by Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., also names House Speaker John Boehner and a slew of Ethics Committee members and staffers. Boehner wasn’t yet Speaker in December 2010 when the House voted 333-79 to censure Rangel, but does now have the power to remove the action from the Congressional Record.

Rangel’s lawsuit claims Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Jo Bonner, R-Ala., then the Ethics Committee’s ranking Republican, “knowingly deceived” the House before the vote, “knowing then that their statements were false.” Evidence was withheld that could’ve helped clear him, he claims.

Lofgren specifically “deceptively misrepresented what had occurred during the proceedings before the committee” when advising the House that Rangel’s “pre-vote proceedings were conducted fairly, honestly, without bias and according to the law, when she knew this was not so.”

Lofgren declined to comment Tuesday.

Per the Associated Press, the committee found that Rangel had underpaid the IRS for 17 years by failing to pay taxes on income from a rental unit in a Dominican Republic resort, had filed misleading financial disclosure reports, had set up a campaign office in the Harlem building where he lived that had been designated for residential use only and had used congressional letterheads to solicit donations for a center named after him at City College of New York.

It was only the 23rd time in the House’s history that a member was censured, the most severe punishment short of expulsion.

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Group knocks Lofgren, seeks ethics panel shakeup

The current lineup of the House Ethics Committee – chaired by a South Bay lawmaker – should be disbanded and the panel entirely repopulated in the next Congress, a progressive-leaning anti-corruption watchdog group said in a letter today to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Speaker-Designate John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“The American people demand that members of Congress act with honesty and integrity,” wrote Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “It is unfortunate that some of those charged with investigating unethical conduct may themselves have handled those responsibilities in a manner allowing charges of misconduct, unfairness and partisanship to be leveled. As the likely leaders of the 112th Congress, it is imperative that you step in and take firm action to get the situation under control and instill confidence in the ethics process.”

CREW cited in its letter an alleged breakdown of relations between Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and committee staff; complaints and cross-complaints by Lofgren and Ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama; Bonner’s ordering the Capitol Police to block the doors of the committee offices for a week; reports that committee members and staff argued about what documents should be subpoenaed; the suspensions of two staff investigators; intimations that Lofgren undermined staff efforts to prepare a fair and thorough case; and what it called the committee’s failure to obtain and review clearly relevant documents from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and the House Financial Services Committee’s staff.

CREW also suggested the House leaders authorize an investigation into exactly what has happened during the inquiry into Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, including whether members or staff deliberately declined to obtain or produce either incriminating or exculpatory evidence.

“Confidence in the House ethics process already is historically low and the information slowly leaking out showing a dysfunctional committee in turmoil and disarray is sure to further diminish any remaining respect,” Sloan wrote.