Multiple Lawmakers Under Investigation Over Ethical Misconduct


WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee announced on Thursday that it was investigating whether Representative Alcee L. Hastings, Democrat of Florida, violated House rules by having a personal relationship with a member of his staff or accepting inappropriate gifts.

Mr. Hastings has made no secret of his relationship with an employee in his congressional office, telling The Palm Beach Post in April that he remained in a relationship with a staff aide. Mr. Hastings, 83, has employed Patricia Williams since at least 2000, according to The Post, and in 2017, the pair bought a $700,000 house near Boynton Beach.

Mr. Hastings was impeached and removed from the federal bench in 1989 after the Senate found him guilty of eight impeachment articles, including one charging that he had conspired to receive a $150,000 bribe. Ms. Williams served as co-counsel with Mr. Hastings as he defended himself against those allegations, and according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Mr. Hastings still owes legal fees to her —  likely the reason for the committee’s examination of whether he has received any inappropriate gifts or “forbearance.”

The relationship received renewed scrutiny last month, when the ethics committee announced that it would investigate allegations that Representative Katie Hill of California, a first-term Democrat, had a sexual relationship with a member of her congressional staff. Ms. Hill has since resigned after admitting to an improper sexual relationship with a campaign aide, though she denied the charge being examined by the committee.

“As they continue to conduct their work, I stand ready to fully cooperate with their inquiry,” Mr. Hastings said in a statement, adding that he had been doing so since May.

This is the third investigation the Ethics Committee has announced this month into allegations that a sitting member of Congress had violated House rules codified this year that bar lawmakers from having relationships with members of their staffs. Besides Mr. Hastings and Ms. Hill, who formally stepped down from her seat this month, the committee is also investigating similar allegations against a delegate, Michael F. Q. San Nicolas of Guam, a Democratic freshman and the territory’s sole nonvoting representative.

As it has in previous cases, the committee said that “the mere fact that it is investigating these allegations, and publicly disclosing its review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.”

The announcement came on the same day that the committee disclosed that the Justice Department was investigating another Florida lawmaker, Representative Ross Spano, a Republican, over accusations of campaign finance violations. The committee said it would defer its own investigation as federal investigators examined whether Mr. Spano violated Federal Election Commission rules about campaign financing, but took care to say that the delay was not an indication of wrongdoing.

“As I’ve said before, we acknowledged that mistakes were made with respect to the campaign loans, but those mistakes were completely inadvertent and unintentional,” Mr. Spano said in a statement. “We were the ones who self-reported this to the F.E.C. We are confident that upon review, the Justice Department will see it that way, too.”

The Ethics Committee also said that it would continue investigations into allegations against two Michigan lawmakers, Representatives Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, and Bill Huizenga, a Republican.

Ms. Tlaib, one of the most high-profile members of the freshman class, is accused of converting campaign funds for personal use, according to a report released by the committee. She faced scrutiny over the decision to pay herself a $45,500 salary during her campaign — namely, the possibility that the campaign paid some of that money after the November 2018 election, a violation of election rules.

Ms. Tlaib and members of her campaign staff declined to speak with investigators, according to the report, which noted that the committee was subsequently unable to “address these potentially problematic payments with her.”

Lawyers for Ms. Tlaib said that the case was outside the jurisdiction of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which reviewed the allegations, and would set a precedent that discouraged candidates from pursuing elected office.

“Nonincumbent candidates may be discouraged from running — especially working mothers like Representative Tlaib, who could otherwise avail themselves of the F.E.C.’s emerging allowances for salaries and child care but must fear unfounded charges of personal use,” the lawyers said.

The committee also scrutinized Mr. Huizenga’s finances, including more than $33,000 in improperly recorded expenses, according to a report published Thursday, and a number of trips taken by Mr. Huizenga, members of his staff and their families.

“While these trips were generally described as campaign fund-raisers, the high cost and the attendance of staff’s families on these trips raised concerns that campaign funds were being converted for personal use to pay for vacations for Rep. Huizenga, his staff and their families,” the report said.

The trips in question included visits to Disney World in Florida, Mackinac Island in Michigan, and Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, all taken from 2015 to 2018.

“This matter has already been resolved and dismissed by the Federal Election Commission,” said Brian Patrick, a spokesman for the congressman. “We have fully cooperated in the investigation and eagerly await a timely resolution.”

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting from Miami.


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