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Bryson Morgan Talks to National Journal on House Ethics Provision

November 12, 2019, National Journal

Wednesday’s impeachment-inquiry hearing is a critical chance for members on both sides of the Ukraine scandal to push their message to the public. But there’s something else that President Trump's most ardent backers may release: the whistle-blower’s alleged identity.

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Schiff’s choice of words is important, said Bryson Morgan, a former investigative counsel at the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics, adding that the provision is written specifically to encompass violations of the law.

“It’s a sort of catchall ethics provision under which violations of other statutes, including criminal statutes, could become the basis for ethics committee action against a member,” said Morgan, who is now an attorney for Caplin & Drysdale.

For exposing the whistle-blower, those statutes could include obstruction of a proceeding or retaliation against a witness, Morgan said, but members would likely be immune from criminal proceedings because of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.

Still, a complaint, or several, to the Office of Congressional Ethics or the House Ethics Committee is likely if a member exposes the whistle-blower’s name, said Morgan. Another House member can levy a complaint with the Ethics Committee, and anyone, such as an outside group or the whistle-blower’s attorneys, can submit a complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics. Potential punishments include public or private reprimand, censure, or fines.

. . .

The OCE is an independent entity created in 2008 to review allegations against House members, but it relies on voluntary cooperation from the accused, and it’s unlikely they would submit to its requests, Morgan said.

“The effect of that would be that the OCE could still refer that matter over to the full Ethics Committee for investigation, but I wouldn’t expect the OCE to be able to develop a factual record more thoroughly than what’s sort of out there in the public record,” Morgan said.

 . . .

“It’s easier to infer a corrupt intent with that type of tweet than from what could be in fact, or something dressed up as, the Republicans wanting to engage in a legitimate assessment of the credibility of the whistle-blower’s testimony,” Morgan said.

For the full article, please visit National Journal's website.

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