Congressman's letter to US Attorney said to violate House ethics rules
A letter sent by a Republican Congressman to Carol Lam, former US Attorney for the Southern District of California, appears to violate the Ethics rules established by the House of Representatives, RAW STORY has learned
However, another attorney who specializes in Congressional ethics said that although rules may have been violated, there were mitigating factors.
When RAW STORY brought Issa's letter to the attention of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, they confirmed that it appeared in violation of the same ethical rules that had prompted them to file complaints against two additional Congress members earlier in the month.
"CREW will be sending an ethics complaint to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct regarding Rep. Issa’s letter to former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam," Naomi Seligman Steiner, the group's Deputy Director, confirmed to RAW STORY this afternoon.
Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) spokesman Frederick Hill told RAW STORY he wouldn't comment on a complaint he had not seen.
"You want me to comment on something that hasn't been filed and you can't send me?" Hill wrote in an e-mail.
CREW's complaint concerns a letter written by Rep. Issa to Lam on Feb. 2, 2004, seeking information concerning the release of and dropping of a case against Antonio Amparo-Lopez, whom the letter alleges was "a known alien smuggler with a long criminal record."
"I respectfully request that your office provide me with information about the facts surrounding [Amparo-Lopez's arrest] and, if applicable, the rationale behind any decision made by your office to decline or delay prosecution of Mr. Amparo-Lopez or any other action that may have contributed to his release," Issa then wrote.
The full letter, a signed copy of which was provided to RAW STORY by Rep. Issa's office, can be accessed at this link.
Earlier in the month, CREW filed complaints with the House and Senate Ethics Committees for similar communications made with former New Mexico Attorney General David Iglesias by Rep. Heather Wilson and Senator Pete Domenici, both Republicans of New Mexico.
The group's executive director, Melanie Sloan, wrote to the House Ethics Committee that Wilson's communication with Iglesias may have violated Congressional rules about communications between members of Congress and government officials.
"The House has recognized 'the possibility that a request for background information or a status report 'may in effect be an indirect or subtle effort to influence the substantive outcome of the proceedings,''" she wrote. "To protect the decision-making process, the House has prohibited such ex parte communications."
Because so much of this exchange between the two was public and out in the open, one expert on Congressional ethics said that any possible rule violation wasn't comparable to Wilson's off the record phone calls about a case that was still in grand jury deliberations.
"The matter was dismissed and there was a public, written record of communication," said attorney Stan Brand, who served as General Counsel to the US House of Representatives under Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. "It may not be entirely consistent with the rules, but it doesn't register on the richter scale."
Still, the White House showed that it took a stricter position on matters before the US Attorneys, even when dealing with dismissed cases.
When Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked on March 23 about the failure to prosecute certain illegal immigrants in Southeastern Texas, with reference to Lam as another example, he refused to comment, and accused a White House reporter of trying to 'draw' him in.
"Roger Hedgecock has tried to draw me into something that I cannot comment upon because there are ongoing legal deliberations in the case that he has cited, and therefore, I can't say anything," Snow said.
Long feud between Congressman, attorney
Rep. Issa's interactions with Lam have been conducted publicly, and out in the open.
On March 6, before the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Issa criticized Lam for not working hard enough on the issue of alien smuggling.
"Only someone who believes that trafficking human beings isn’t a serious crime could look at Carol Lam’s record and see an area that does not deserve legitimate criticism," he said.
The California Republican has long tracked that record, and sent letters with colleagues to the Justice Department requesting greater attention to the problem of alien smuggling along the California-Mexico border.
His letter to Lam on the Amparo-Lopez case was another part of that effort. It was included in the documents forwarded from the Justice Department to Congressional investigators on the night of Friday, March 23.
"I first wrote to Carol Lam about border crimes more than three years ago after learning from a reporter that her office had declined to prosecute an alien smuggler apprehended while transporting a car loaded with undocumented immigrants near Temecula, California, in my district," the Congressman added in the March 6 hearing.
Issa also requested information about other specific cases Lam had dismissed over the years.
"The last correspondence I sent to you was October 13, 2005, concerning an alien by the name of Alfredo Gonzales Garcia, a.k.a. Isidro Gonzales Alas, FBI # 180566JA5," Issa wrote in a May 24, 2006 letter posted at his website. "In this letter I asked that if there is some barrier to the prosecution of criminal aliens, including smugglers, that I am unaware of, to please communicate it so we can make sure you have the resources and policies in place needed to allow you to bring these criminal aliens and repeat offenders to justice."
In the National Review today, Issa's spokesman explained that the Congressman's public feud with Lam over the years was part of a broader strategy to drive the case for more alien trafficking prosecutions.
"We were stumped in terms of getting information to explain the scope of the problem,” Byron York quoted Frederick Hill as saying. “We put the word out on the street that we were interested in getting more information about this.”
At the same time, Lam also received some praise from Rep. Issa upon her removal from office.
"San Diego owes her our thanks for her work, particularly for her success targeting public corruption and other white collar crimes," he said in a Jan. 16 release. The professionalism exhibited by the attorneys from her office who prosecuted former Congressman Randy Cunningham was a credit to her leadership and her office."