Internal investigations into the conduct of several House members have been exposed in an extraordinary, Internet-era breach of security involving the secretive process by which Congress polices lawmaker ethics.
Revelations of the mostly preliminary inquiries by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — also known as the Ethics committee — shook the chamber as lawmakers were immersed in a series of scheduled votes Thursday.
The panel announced that it was probing two California Democrats — Reps. Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson — even as its embarrassed leaders took pains to explain that several other lawmakers also identified in the leaked confidential committee memo may have committed no wrongdoing.
The committee said it was investigating whether Waters used her influence to help a bank in which her husband owned stock, and whether the couple benefited as a result. Separately, the panel is looking into whether Richardson failed to disclose required information on her financial disclosure forms and received special treatment from a lender.
In the midst of a busy legislative day, ethics chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., went to the House floor to announce that a confidential weekly report of the committee from July had leaked out in a case of "cyber-hacking."
A committee statement said that its security was breached through "peer to peer file sharing software" by a junior employee who was working from home. The staff member was fired.
The July report contains a summary of the committee's work at the time, but Lofgren said no inferences should be made about anyone whose name is mentioned.