House of Hypocrites

While congress is set to sit in judgment of President Clinton, many of its members have their own indiscretions to deal with. Lucky for them Ken Starr isn't investigating them and the notoriously lax ethics committee is.

The congressional ethics committees aren't always doddering or unresponsive; Bob Packwood got a thorough going-over, and the infamous "Keating Five" investigation took three years and included an outside counsel. But even when a committee comes down hard on someone, the fallout usually dissipates fast. Though censured in 1983 for having sex with a 17-year-old boy, Representative Gerry Studds went on to serve effectively. And few recall the fact that in 1987, then-Representative Richard Stallings was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee for using campaign money to buy a car. Indeed, even though Newt Gingrich got an unprecedented Speaker-sized spanking from the House for providing (in Newt's own words) "inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable" information to the ethics committee, his fine of $300,000 for lying about use of public money seems small-time compared to the penalty President Clinton currently faces.

On the following pages is a partial list of current congressional members whose indiscretions should be kept in mind as we watch them judge the prez.

Rep. Henry Hyde
Rep. Henry Hyde

Rep. Newt Gingrich | Rep. Jay Kim | Rep. Corrine Brown | Senator Phil Gramm | Senator Rick Santorum | Rep. Jerry Costello | Rep. Tom DeLay | Rep. Henry Hyde | Rep. Dan Burton | Rep. Helen Chenoweth | Rep. Barney Frank | Senator Carol Moseley-Braun | Senator Don Nickles | Rep. Bud Shuster


The red flags: Newt's problems, in many respects, are remarkably parallel to those of his nemesis, Bill Clinton: while the independent counsel's report logs several instances of the president's lying, Gingrich, in the course of one house investigation, made 13 false or misleading statements (via his lawyer) to the House Ethics Committee. The speaker of the house also prevaricated when queried about accepting a $4.5 million book advance from Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins and then meeting with the media mogul to discuss his legislative needs. He also used taxpayer-funded nonprofit groups for partisan means. His private problems also parallel Clinton's. According to former campaign staffer Dot Crews, Gingrich "had girlfriends—some serious, some trivial," which distracted him from the more onerous business of campaigning in 1974. He apparently adjusted his behavior for semantic reasons: says former Gingrich paramour Anne Manning of a 1977 encounter, "We had oral sex . . . [so] he can say, 'I never slept with her.' "

Called into account?: Yes. Though found to be in violation of House rules on numerous occasions, Gingrich has only had one major punishment meted out: A formal House reprimand and a $300,000 fine imposed for making misleading statements to the ethics committee, and failing to seek legal counsel on the use of nonprofit money for political purposes. Also decided to forgo the $4.5 million advance.

Final outcome: Still the Speaker, possible presidential contender, beloved figure of the Right, including "family values" proponents.

vox populi, vox dei: "We could have won in 1974 if we could have kept him out of the office, screwing her on the desk."—Gingrich's 1974 campaign treasurer Kip Carter.


The red flag: Receiving huge illegal campaign contributions.

Called into account?: Yes—but not, to date, by Congress. Though the Justice Department investigated and Kim ultimately pled guilty to accepting $230,000 in illicit contributions, the House Ethics Committee didn't get around to launching an investigation until September 1997—months after Kim entered his plea. Since then, no reports have been issued, no apparent actions taken.

Final outcome: Sentenced to a year's probation by a federal court, Kim holds the distinction of being the only member of Congress to have sported a monitoring device shackled to his ankle, giving new meaning to the phrase "serving in Congress."

vox populi, vox dei: "The largest amount of criminal campaign finance violations ever committed by a member of Congress."—federal prosecutors describing the Kim case in their sentencing report.


The red flag: Brown zealously defended Foutanga Sissoko, a West African citizen who would eventually plead guilty to attempting to bribe U.S. customs officials and was recently alleged to have stolen $240 million from a foreign bank. While Brown did nothing illegal in championing Sissiko's case, the subsequent undisclosed gift of a $40,000 Lexus LS 400 to her daughter—which Sissoko's lawyer termed a "gesture of friendship" for Brown—may mean the congresswoman is at least in violation of financial disclosure laws, if not laws and house rules governing bribes, illegal gratuities, and improper gifts.

Called into account?:Nope. Though the Congressional Accountability Project (CAP) has drafted a complaint against Brown, no member of the House has shown any interest in formally filing it with the Ethics Committee. A Florida grand jury, however, is investigating.

Final outcome: Still pending.

vox populi, vox dei: "Never in any case I've ever had any dealings with was there such an attempt to put so much political pressure on the prosecutors." —Assistant U.S. attorney Richard Scruggs, on Brown's involvement in the Sissoko prosecution.


The red flags: Gramm was less-than-forthcoming about using his influence to help get parole in 1979 for a convicted drug and arms dealer. The dealer has since returned to prison three more times. Gramm also let savings and loan operator Jerry Stiles (later convicted of financial crimes) pay back almost half of the $117,000 that he advanced Gramm in 1987—and shortly thereafter, Gramm moved a bill through Congress allowing ailing Texas S&Ls to stay open. According to Bob Packwood's diary, Gramm may have also laundered illegal campaign funds for Packwood. Further, he made technically illegal fundraising phone calls from his office. Finally, the good senator apparently forced the transfers and firing of U.S. Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers who interfered with his hunting.

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