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Congressional ethics watchdog says Reps. Newman, Lamborn may have violated federal law

The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the cases to the House Ethics Committee, recommending that it investigate further.
Image: Marie Newman campaigns in Chicago on March 9, 2020.
Marie Newman campaigns in Chicago on March 9, 2020.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP file

WASHINGTON — The Office of Congressional Ethics said Monday that Reps. Marie Newman, D-Ill., and Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., may have violated federal law and recommended that the House Ethics Committee further investigate their cases.

The congressional watchdog's investigative report on Newman’s case alleges that she “may have promised federal employment to a primary opponent for the purpose of procuring political support,” adding, “If Rep. Newman used her candidacy to promise federal employment, she may have violated federal law, House rules, or standards of conduct.”

Image: Rep. Doug Lamborn
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Oct. 22, 2019.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images file

The ethics office alleged in its report on Lamborn that he “may have misused official resources for personal and non-official purposes," potentially violating House rules and standards of conduct. Lamborn also "may have solicited or accepted improper gifts from subordinates,” which could also violate federal law, the report said.

The House Ethics Committee, which can reprimand lawmakers and recommend punishment for misconduct, said it would investigate the allegations in the reports.

Newman allegations

When Newman started her 2020 campaign, she made certain promises to her campaign’s foreign policy adviser, Iymen Chehade, about future employment in her congressional office, the report said. Both parties signed a contract, and in 2021, Chehade sued to enforce the agreement after Newman didn’t hire him, alleging “that he decided not to run for the 2020 congressional seat in reliance of her promise to hire him as a foreign policy advisor and either District Director or Legislative Director in her congressional office," according to the report.

Newman ultimately settled the case with Chehade, and they both signed nondisclosure agreements, the report said.

An attorney for Newman told the Office of Congressional Ethics in a letter in November that the office “fails to present grounds for investigation” and that “virtually every element of the allegation is false.”

Newman didn’t violate any laws, rules or standards of conduct because she made the offer of employment to Chehade before she was a candidate, not in exchange for political support, and because he wasn’t a primary opponent, he said.

The ethics office said Chehade refused to cooperate with its review. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The office recommended that the House committee subpoena him and a political consulting group, LBH Chicago.

Newman's spokesperson said Monday that the ethics committee's review resulted from a right-wing organization's “politically-motivated” complaint and that the "materials produced during the OCE's review overwhelmingly demonstrate that the ethics complaint is completely meritless."

Lamborn allegations

The ethics office's report on Lamborn alleges that his wife, Jeanie Lamborn, has had access to an official House email account and that “while it is not unusual for spouses to play a role in a congressional office or have an official email account, evidence obtained by the OCE indicated that Mrs. Lamborn had a role in the office that exceeded what is permissible for spouses.”

The report said Lamborn's wife, for example, regularly visits his office, often sleeping there with him, and "was deeply involved in all personnel aspects of Rep. Lamborn’s office, including but not limited to hiring, firing, and promotions." She received all daily reports from the Washington and district offices summarizing what staff members were working on each day, the report said. She also "regularly made requests of staff, which generally fell into two categories: (1) campaign-related matters, such as picking up mail and (2) personal errands or services," it said.

A former staffer told the Office of Congressional Ethics that Lamborn’s chief of staff, Dale Anderson, said Jeanie Lamborn could overrule decisions and "had precedence."

“He would explain that, and then Mrs. Lamborn would say, if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy,” the former aide said, according to the report.

The ethics office said Anderson refused to cooperate with its review. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ethics office's report also alleges that staffers would host celebrations for the Lamborns on special occasions and that they would provide them with gifts. While current aides interviewed by the ethics office said the gifts were given voluntarily, some former staff members said they were obligatory, the report said.

An attorney for Lamborn told the office last month that most of the areas it examined “do not reveal a single violation of House ethics rules.” The "one and only possible questionable incident" was that Anderson helped move a heavy piece of furniture at Jeanie Lamborn's request, he said.

The attorney said that Jeanie Lamborn was "committed to her husband's success" and that her conduct didn’t have any ethical implications. He added that staff members never performed campaign activities on official time or with government resources, that they were paid by the campaign for the work they did and that they didn’t perform personal errands. The attorney said Lamborn never solicited gifts from staff members and noted that gifts for special occasions are allowed from subordinates for special occasions.

Lamborn intends to cooperate fully with the committee and “expects to be vindicated because he conscientiously follows ethics rules to the best of his ability,” his attorney said.

Lamborn didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A former staffer for Lamborn, Brandon Pope, sued Lamborn in May, alleging that Lamborn fired him for complaining about Lamborn's "reckless and dangerous approach to Covid-19" in his congressional offices. The lawsuit, which the ethics office cited in its report, also alleged that Lamborn used staff members to perform tasks for his family, such as moving furniture, and that at one point he gave his son, who was moving to Washington for work, "the necessary access to live in a storage area in the basement of the U.S. Capitol for a period of weeks."

Lamborn's communication director, Cassandra Sebastian, denied the allegations when the lawsuit was filed, saying the workplace safety allegations were "unsubstantiated" and "did not result in the termination" of the aide.