Sunday, February 26, 2006

It's Time to Bring in the Feds

Time: The Justice Department has a message for Congress: clean up your house or else we may have to do it for you. A senior federal law enforcement official told TIME that the paralyzed and often lax House ethics committee has created a vacuum that prosecutors won't hesitate to fill. The House’s internal mechanism for keeping corruption in check is “broken,” says the official.

By contrast, current criminal probes of lawmakers are expanding rapidly. Like the Abramoff probe, the investigation into former Republican Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham from San Diego is also widening. Last week, defense contractor Mitchell Wade OF MZM, INC. pleaded guilty to supplying more than $1 million of the $2.4 million in bribes Cunningham previously admitted taking in a scheme that touches Defense Department officials and two other members of Congress. A Defense Department spokesman tells TIME that "there is an ongoing review by appropriate organizations within the Department" as to whether the Cunningham- and MZM-linked intelligence contracts would have compromised any Pentagon intelligence programs. (...)

Staff of the ethics committee—which is only beginning to get up and running after a partisan deadlock that's lasted for 13 months—did not return phone calls Friday for comment. Jan Baran, an attorney who has often represented elected officials caught in ethics cases, said Justice may be “saber rattling” since the ethics panels cover congressional rules and not criminal offenses, which are Justice's province alone. But if Justice is really just trying to warn Congress to crack down on sleazy conduct, “I think they're correct.… Not only the Department of Justice, but I think the public is telling Congress: if you're going to have some rules make sure people obey them.”


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