Written by Tom Fitton
â€¢ Republican Members of Congress Nailed in Sea of Galilee
â€¢ Rep. Richardson Slapped on the Wrist for Web of Scandals
â€¢ Another Legal Victory for JW and MDPetitions.com in Battle Against Gerrymandering
â€¢ Who Made the List?
Evidently, one year ago, some Republican Members of Congress engaged in what has been described as a booze-fueled romp in the Sea of Galilee - a sacred place where Jesus Christ performed miracles. The incident, which exploded into the news last week, occurred during a privately funded "fact-finding mission" to the Holy Land sponsored by the American Israel Educational Foundation. (The timing of this "news," which occurred in August 2011, is obviously timed to impact Election Day, and we wish it had been disclosed a year ago.)
Such trips to the Holy Land have been described as a rite of passage for Members of Congress and serve the dual purpose of allowing members to tour holy sites while receiving an education in the importance of supporting Israel. However, I'm quite certain skinny dipping was not on the official agenda.
According Politico, the late-night swim in the Sea of Galilee "involved drinking, numerous GOP freshmen lawmakers, top leadership staff - and one nude member of Congress, according to more than a dozen sources, including eyewitnesses."
"During a fact-finding congressional trip to the Holy Land last summer, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took off his clothes and jumped into the sea, joining a number of members, their families and GOP staff during a night out in Israel" reported Politico, citing sources. "Other participants, including the daughter of another congressman, swam fully clothed, while some lawmakers partially disrobed. More than 20 people took part in the late-night dip in the sea, according to sources who were participants in the trip."
The FBI reportedly got wind of the incident and no charges were filed. But that does not make the scandal any less embarrassing, or reprehensible.
Rep. Yoder apologized for his "spontaneous and very brief" dip in the water sans swimsuit. Others named in the story include: Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) and his daughter Samantha; Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) and his wife; Reps. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Michael Grimm (R-NY).
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who was also on the trip, but did not partake in the late-night festivities, reportedly chastised his House colleagues the next morning for jeopardizing the mission of the trip. "Cantor was livid," reports Politico. Of course, if Cantor was so livid, he should have demanded immediate, public accountability for the behavior.
Some of the members who participated have apologized for their behavior. But not Rep. Steve Southerland, who described the dip as part of a Christian pilgrimage of sorts: "I am very disappointed that this story has spun into something that, I will be honest with you, I don't think is accurate...Samantha [Rep. Southerland's daughter] and I had a great experience and we did nothing wrong."
It is certainly possible that some of the Members of Congress considered the swim to be a spiritual experience, given that the Sea of Galilee is a sacred place where Christ walked on water. But I'm quite certain this cannot be said for the entire group. If even a bit of this story is true: Is this how we expect our elected officials to behave when they're on a "fact-finding" mission abroad? How do these activities reflect upon the institution of Congress, or the entire United States government, for that matter? An incident that results in FBI inquiries or internal reproaches from House leadership requires full accountability.
The House Ethics Committee, which is charged with making certain that activities of members of Congress do not reflect poorly on the institution, should investigate the matter and take appropriate action. (According to House rules, "a member, delegate, resident commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.") However, an investigation does not appear to be in the offing, writes The National Journal:
It may be embarrassing, or even unsavory. But does a member of Congress skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee - considered by some Christians to be a holy site - also represent the type of conduct that reflects poorly on the U.S. House? There's a chance that question may not ever be answered - at least officially.
On Monday, Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, Kevin Smith, issued a statement that the matter of freshman Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., taking a nude plunge last summer during a trip by about 30 House members to Israel, first reported by Politico on its website Sunday night, has already been "handled" by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., "swiftly and appropriately."
Boehner may be Speaker of the House, but not yet king of the House and, despite his pronouncement that it has been "handled," the Office of Congressional Ethics could initiate an investigation without a complaint being filed, but so far, no action has been taken. You can see why Congress has a 12% approval rating.
Of course, this is not the only example of government officials "gone wild." Earlier this year Barack Obama's Secret Service detail was caught patronizing Colombian hookers while running "advance" for the president, which crossed the line from disturbing to dangerous as these agents almost certainly put our national security at risk with their reckless behavior.
And then there was also the lavish Las Vegas "training conference" hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA) that featured a clown, a mind reader and a $31,208 reception. (The total trip cost taxpayers $823,000.)
Until these incidents are taken seriously with full accountability, there is no question that government officials will continue to consider themselves above the law and ethical norms, and will act accordingly. Read on for yet another example...
Let's say a member of Congress violates the law by forcing her taxpayer funded staff to work on her campaign. Let's say she also improperly used official resources for her personal use. And then, when Congress decides to look into the matter, she obstructs the investigation.
What is a proper punishment for the perpetrator?
How about a verbal reprimand and a $10,000 fine complete with a nice little payment plan? That's exactly what Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA), one of "Washington's Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians" received for these exact same transgressions. (Click here for JW's detailed dossier on Rep. Richardson.)
Per The Hill:
The House voted to reprimand Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) for using House resources for her own personal purposes and pressuring and intimidating her staff to work on her campaign, after a debate in which Richardson continued to argue on the floor that the report mischaracterized some of these violations.
By voice vote, members approved the bipartisan Ethics Committee report outlining seven violations against Richardson, which includes the charge of trying to obstruct the investigation. It also recommended at $10,000 fine, which Richardson must pay out of her personal funds by December.
Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the committee unanimously agreed that a reprimand was in order, and said this step is needed to ensure the integrity of the House.
"The recommendation for sanction we present to you today will ensure that Rep. Richardson is held accountable for her conduct," Sanchez said. "It will also reaffirm the credibility of the House by demonstrating our commitment to upholding and enforcing the ethics standards that apply to all of us equally."
We're not fools. This "punishment" does absolutely nothing to restore the "credibility" of the House of Representatives, which currently boasts a whopping 13.8% approval rating.
A sitting member of Congress violates federal law and brings shame to the House of Representatives and all she receives is a slap on the wrist fine and a stern "talking to"? The New York Times described the reprimand as a "significant embarrassment" for Richardson.
It's a significant embarrassment alright, but for the Ethics Committee, which clearly shirked its responsibility. Especially considering the gravity of the report's findings as described by Reps. Jo Bonner (R-AL) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA), the Ethics Committee Chairman and Ranking Member, in a joint statement announcing the report of the Investigative Subcommittee (ISC):
At the completion of its investigation, the ISC unanimously concluded that there was substantial reason to believe that Representative Laura Richardson violated the Purpose Law, 31 U.S.C. § 1301; House Rule XXIII clauses 1, 2, and 8; Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics for Government Service; and other standards of conduct, by improperly using House resources for campaign, personal, and nonofficial purposes; by requiring or compelling her official staff to perform campaign work; and by obstructing the investigation of the Committee and the ISC through the alteration or destruction of evidence, the deliberate failure to produce documents responsive to requests for information and a subpoena, and attempting to influence the testimony of witnesses.
One of Richardson's former employees, who came to Richardson's office via the Wounded Warrior program, according to The Hill, had it right. She issued a stinging criticism of Richardson in her resignation letter, which was read on the House floor: "As a service-connected disabled veteran, it is sad to say that I would rather be at war in Afghanistan than work under people that are morally corrupt," she wrote.
Richardson, despite the committee's report detailing her many transgressions, was defiant to the very end. As part of the deal she reportedly struck with the committee, Richardson was forced to admit guilt. But that didn't stop her from taking to the House floor to dispute the report's findings.
The American people are sick and tired of politicians covering for each other. In fact, next to the economy, which we are told is the worst since the Great Depression, corruption is the most important issue for voters this fall.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal:
Reducing corruption in the federal government is Americans' second highest priority for the country's next president, according to a new poll.
That lofty aspiration for the next U.S. leader is only topped by Americans' desire for the president to create "good jobs," the study found.
The poll...by Gallup, found that 45% of Americans believe reducing corruption is "extremely important," while 87% of them feel the issue is "extremely/very important." The goal scored above a host of other presidential talking points, including "reducing the federal budget deficit" and "dealing with terrorism and other international threats."
This certainly squares with JW's most recent poll, conducted January 2012 in partnership with Harris Interactive, which found that the vast majority of registered voters (88%) believe corruption is a significant problem in Washington. That number does not figure to improve so long as members of Congress continue to look the other way when their colleagues stomp all over the rule of law.
Richardson should have been expelled.
Okay, now let's end with some good news...
Judicial Watch is on a roll in Maryland, notching another critical court victory last Friday on a very important issue - gerrymandering.
On August 17, Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, issued a ruling that will subject Maryland's newly gerrymandered Congressional Districting Plan (MD Senate Bill 1, Chapter 1 of the 2011 Special Session of the General Assembly) to voter referendum on Election Day 2012. The Court of Appeals of Maryland shot down an effort initiated by the state Democratic Party that sought to stop the referendum and silence the voices of Maryland voters.
The appellate court decision upheld the August 10, 2012, ruling by Judge Ronald A. Silkworth:
ORDERED AND DECLARED, that the petition submitted to the Maryland State Board of Elections to refer Senate Bill 1, Chapter 1 of the 2011 Special Session of the General Assembly, is legally sufficient to refer the laws to the voters under Article XVI of the Maryland Constitution; and it is further, ORDERED, that Senate Bill 1, Chapter 1 of the 2011 Special Session of the General Assembly shall be placed on the November 2012 ballot...
MDPetitions.com launched a successful petition drive to put the Congressional Districting Plan to a referendum November 2012 because the state's gerrymandered maps minimize the voting power of certain groups. The goal of MDPetitions.com was simple: Let the voters decide.
But the last thing Maryland Democrats wanted was for voters to be informed about how they had carved up the state to the advantage of Democrat incumbents. So they filed a lawsuit to stop the referendum from going forward. Judicial Watch represents MDPetitions.com and defended the petition drive at a hearing before the High Court in Annapolis, MD, last week. And fortunately, our team was successful in persuading the court that the referendum should go forward.
Delegate Neil Parrott, Chairman of MDPetitions.com, hailed the decision as a "great victory" for Maryland voters:
We are pleased that voters will have a say on what is likely the most gerrymandered congressional map in the country. On Election Day, we expect that both Democrats and Republicans will overturn these undemocratic and racially divisive congressional maps.
And here's a statement I offered to the press:
Governor O'Malley and certain Democrat powerbrokers will now be held accountable to the will of the people of Maryland. Our lawyers were honored to protect the right of voters to exercise their right to keep in check the excesses of the politicians in Annapolis.
On October 20, 2011, Governor Martin O'Malley (D-MD) signed the new Congressional Districting Plan into law, drawing heavy criticism from both political parties. Critics maintain the new congressional map is specifically designed to enhance the power of Democrat incumbents while minimizing the voting power of minorities, rural voters and Republicans.
As noted by a Washington Post editorial: "The map, drafted under Mr. O'Malley's watchful eye, mocks the idea that voting districts should be compact or easily navigable. The eight districts respect neither jurisdictional boundaries nor communities of interest. To protect incumbents and for partisan advantage, the map has been sliced, diced, shuffled and shattered, making districts resemble studies in cubism." On this topic, I love this old clip of President Ronald Reagan, in his last interview in office, attacking gerrymandering.
I want to offer my congratulations to the MDPetitions team and to the Judicial Watch attorneys who won yet another hard fought battle on behalf of the voters in Maryland. MDPetitions.com developed a cutting edge Internet tool to empower voters to have more of say, through the referendum process, in how they are governed.
And remember, thanks to JW's legal team, and MDPetitions.com, voters in Maryland will also be able to vote up or down on discounted tuition breaks for illegal alien students on Election Day.
You can see how your support for Judicial Watch not only advances the rule of law - but our God-given right of self-government.
Who Made the List?
Our New York Times best seller The Corruption Chronicles, Obama's Big Secrecy, Big Corruption, and Big Government, as I've told you, is a book that more than a few corrupt politicians would surely not want you to read. One reason is because the book, in a special section, lists the New Millennium's Most Corrupt Politicians. You are going to have to buy the book to find out who's on it. But I will give you a hint about one corrupt politician on the list - his last name begins and ends with a vowel.
You can buy the book here on the Internet and in retailers across the nation. (One supporter found it for sale in a military base overseas!) Your purchase of the book will not only provide you with a valuable insight into the corrupt ways of Washington, but will also support Judicial Watch's other anti-corruption activities.
Until next week...