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House ethics panel to further investigate Ocasio-Cortez over Met Gala gifts

The New York Democrat's office said it was confident the matter would be dismissed.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., departs the Met Gala on Sept. 13, 2021, in New York.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., leaves the Met Gala in New York on Sept. 13, 2021.Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee disclosed Thursday that it had extended its review of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's appearance at the 2021 Met Gala over an allegation that she may have accepted impermissible gifts associated with the event.

In a joint statement, Committee Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss., and ranking member Susan Wild, D-Pa., announced that they decided in December to extend their review into the allegation after it received a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics.

In an 18-page report prepared by the Office of Congressional Ethics that was made public Thursday, the panel detailed its investigation into the allegation that Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., may have violated House rules, standards of conduct and federal law. It concluded that there was "substantial reason to believe" that she did accept impermissible gifts.

House rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting gifts such as "a gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value."

During the September 2021 gala, Ocasio-Cortez was provided with "a couture dress, handbag, shoes, and jewelry," the ethics report said. "She also received hair, makeup, transportation, and ready-room services."

Her partner, Riley Roberts, received a bow tie and shoes for the event.

The dress Ocasio-Cortez wore made headlines — it was a floor-length white gown, designed by Aurora James, with “Tax the Rich” emblazoned in red on the back.

The ethics report said Ocasio-Cortez "appears to have now paid for the rental value of the attire she wore to the Met Gala and for the goods and services she and her partner received in connection with this September 2021 event." However, it said, the payment wasn't made until after the ethics office contacted her for its review.

If it weren't for the ethics review, the report said, "it appears that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez may not have paid for several thousands of dollars’ worth of goods and services provided to her."

The report said that a stylist who did Ocasio-Cortez's hair for the gala charged about $477 for the services but that the bill went unpaid until the following February after the stylist service threatened to file a complaint with New York City Office of Labor Policy and Standards for Workers.

Separately, the agency whose stylist did Ocasio-Cortez's makeup billed a campaign staffer, who was tasked with handling those payments, about $345. That payment wasn't made until March 2022, according to the report.

In addition, a publicist associated with the company that supplied Ocasio-Cortez with her rental items — a gown, a handbag and shoes — provided a final invoice to the campaign staffer in September 2021 for about $990, but it went unpaid for months. The company then identified in April that $5,579.99 worth of unpaid goods and services had been provided to Ocasio-Cortez and her partner for the event, the report said.

That payment was made in May, according to the report, which added, "When asked about the delays in payments for the variety of goods and services described above, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged 'there was a ball that was dropped' and described the situation as 'deeply regrettable.'"

The Ethics Committee, meanwhile, made it clear Thursday that the extension of its review — separate from the one conducted by the ethics office — "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."

Ocasio-Cortez's office defended her actions Thursday and said it was confident the matter would be dismissed.

"Though no Ethics violation has been found, the Office of Congressional Ethics ('OCE') did identify that there were delays in paying vendors for costs associated with the Congresswoman’s attendance at the Met Gala. The Congresswoman finds these delays unacceptable, and she has taken several steps to ensure nothing of this nature will happen again," it said.

"However, while regrettable, these delayed payments definitively do not rise to the level of a violation of House Rules. Even after OCE’s exhaustive review of the Congresswoman’s personal communications, there is no record of the Congresswoman refusing to pay for these expenses. To the contrary, there are several explicit, documented communications, from prior to OCE’s review, that show the Congresswoman understood that she had to pay for these expenses from her own personal funds — as she ultimately did."