Schemes targeting the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics are not covered by a law prohibiting obstruction of Congress, a federal appeals court has declared.
The decision came as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a criminal case against David Bowser, who had served as chief of staff to Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga, according to Politico.
A jury had convicted Bowser on several felony charges in 2018 related to alleged efforts to use the congressman’s taxpayer-funded “member’s representational allowance” to pay for debate consultant Brett O’Donnell for coaching Broun for debates, according to Politico.
But the judge threw out a conviction for obstructing Congress. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan held the obstruction statute did not apply to congressional entities that don’t work under the control of congressional committee.
And a three-judge appeals panel unanimously upheld Sullivan’s decision.
“The statute’s failure to include other congressional ‘offices’ is especially strong evidence of meaning here because other statutes do,” Judge Thomas Griffith wrote in the court’s decision.
David Sherman of the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said: “The court's decision is a significant blow to the ethics regime of the House of Representatives. Congressional leadership should move swiftly to close this gap in the law. Extending the obstruction of Congress statute to include OCE investigations is essential to promoting and enforcing the highest ethical standards in the people's House."
Bowser had been convicted of three counts of making false statements, one count of obstruction of proceedings and one count of concealment of material facts, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He is facing a four-month prison term, according to Politico.
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