04/27/2005: From the "Aren't You Glad He Cleared That All Up" Files...
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) today sent the following letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):
"Dear Leader Pelosi:
Thank you for your letter of April 12. I too am troubled that the Standards Committee has been unable to organize.
I am especially troubled that this impasse has been attributed to the adoption by the House of some minor but important changes to the rules which provide all members with basic fairness: the right to counsel of your own choosing; the right to know when you have been charged by the Committee with wrongdoing before you are found guilty and read about it in the newspaper; and the right to a presumption of innocence. These common sense reforms, which the minority made no attempt to change or eliminate in the motion to recommit during the adoption of the rules, have sadly been twisted and distorted and used as political fodder.
Let me once again explain what we did in the rules changes and what we did not do since there seems to be continued confusion.
The requirement that there be bipartisan support to authorize the creation of an investigatory subcommittee has not been changed. For the last several Congresses, the rules have required bipartisan support, either through agreement of the Chairman and Ranking Member or at the full Committee level in order to move to the investigative subcommittee phase. That is the way it was under the old rules, and that is the way it is under the new rules.
Under the old rules, a tie vote in the Committee left the matter in limbo neither moving forward to an investigatory subcommittee nor being dismissed. In this circumstance, the Member subject to the complaint did not know his/her status since there was no official action. The Member could remain in limbo indefinitely; yet as a practical matter, in the court of public opinion, they were "under investigation" because the public knew a complaint had been filed and had heard no other word from the Committee. The new rules do indeed change that limbo status. If there is not a bipartisan vote to go forward, the complaint is dismissed.
You mentioned in your letter that half the Committee could dismiss a complaint "solely by stalling for 45 days." I believe you have been misinformed. Under the committee rules, the minority has access to an extension beyond 45 days. Even more important, whenever the minority chooses to place the matter on the agenda, something the ranking member has an absolute right to do without permission from the majority, the clock stops. Thus an automatic dismissal is not possible unless the minority chooses to let it happen.
What are the other changes the House voted to make to the rules and which you and Mr. Mollahan have proposed to repeal in H.Res. 131? The first was a right to counsel. The right to counsel of one's own choosing is a fundamental right enjoyed by all Americans, and Members should be able to decide who represents them, subject to the normal conflict of interest rules that lawyers are required to follow.
The final change dealt with allowing members to know they were under investigation (thus giving them an opportunity to defend themselves) before public notice is given that they were found guilty. It is a fundamental American value to be able to face your accusers and defend yourself, and yet in H. Res. 131 you propose to repeal this right.
Each of these changes I just described is reasonable and rational. You could have tried to strike them on opening day in your motion to recommit if you found them offensive, but you chose not to. To the extent that there might be any ambiguity or misunderstanding of these rule changes or their intent, the Chairman of the Committee has offered to the Ranking Member guarantees in writing that go to the heart of the concerns.
Mr. Mollohan's refusal to acknowledge that these understandings cure his previously stated concerns leads me to fear that we have reached a point where the fairness or the merits of the rules changes seem not to even be the issue.
I believe that the ethics process should be above partisan politics. Since sincere and repeated offers to address the concerns raised by you and Mr. Mollahan have been rebuffed, I propose that the House return to the ethics rules under which we operated in the last Congress, leaving the unfairness inherent in the old system in place. I do so with the hope that once the committee gets back to its important work that it will find time to revisit these changes and, if it sees fit, make a recommendation to the whole House for further action.
I hope you will support this effort and then urge your members of the Ethics Committee to organize and begin their work without further objections.
J. Dennis Hastert
Speaker of the House
Courtesy of US News Wire.
Karen on 04.27.05 @ 04:16 PM CST