The Ethics Committee document leaked last month to the Washington Post is putting a renewed spotlight on Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and the fact that he chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget of the Justice Department, which is investigating his finances.
From Carol Leonnig in today’s Washington Post:
“There are a hundred ways he can influence what happens with the department’s funding — without one vote. Everything goes through his committee,” said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative watchdog group that alleged in a complaint that the congressman had not reported the nature and increasing value of his real estate investments. “If that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.”
According to the Ethics Committee memo, the Justice asked the Committee to hold off on investigating Mollohan, suggesting that it has an active criminal probe underway. As the Post reports:
Ethics inquiries into Mollohan date to 2006, when Boehm filed a complaint with the Justice Department. The complaint focused attention on Mollohan’s assets, which had jumped in value from $562,000 in 2000 to at least $6.3 million in 2004. At the same time, he had steered $250 million in earmarks to nonprofit groups whose leaders were sometimes investors with him.
In the firestorm that followed, Mollohan was forced by Pelosi to resign from the Ethics Committee where he served as the ranking Democrat. When Pelosi became Speaker in 2007, she did not require Mollohan to step down as the subcommittee Chairman, even after promising to “drain the swamp” of Congressional corruption.
This issue has flared occasionally since that time. On the House floor this summer, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) compared Mollohan’s conflict to “an elephant in the room.”
The FBI launched an extensive investigation of Mollohan in 2006 and 2007. A grand jury was reportedly convened in West Virginia, but Mollohan has not been indicted. The investigation “went quiet,” as the Post puts it, only to have its existence re-established by the Justice Department request that the Ethics Committee stay away from Mollohan.
While it is true that criminal cases against members of Congress can take several years, as evidenced by the recent conviction of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), the Mollohan investigation is taking too long. NLPC presented clear and unambiguous evidence of repeated reporting violations by Mollohan, violations that Mollohan implicitly acknowledged by filing amended disclosure forms.
Prosecutors have no doubt sought to identify whatever quid pro quo exists between Mollohan and earmark recipients who are his business partners and campaign contributors. But even short of that, the financial disclosure forms signed by Mollohan are subject to the False Statements Act, which provides for criminal penalties for violators.
Mollohan should step down from his appropriations subcommittee chairmanship. Pelosi does not need a criminal indictment to ask him to do so. As long as such a blatant conflict is allowed to exist, it is sure to draw increasing media scrutiny.