The last thing Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley wanted was new attention to the ongoing U.S. House investigation of her ethics in the midst of her campaign for the U.S. Senate. Yet Republicans took delight last week in rubbing salt into a Berkley self-inflicted wound on the matter.
Berkley gave seemingly conflicting answers to television interviewers when asked whether she had contacted the House Ethics Committee for guidance before taking official actions in 2008 to rescue the kidney transplant unit at University Medical Center where her doctor husband’s practice held a kidney services contract.
The committee in July launched an investigation into possible Berkley conflicts on the UMC issue and occasions where she lobbied against cuts in Medicare reimbursements for kidney treatment. The investigation is not expected to wrap up by Election Day.
"Let me say this, it’s my understanding that my office did contact the Ethics Committee, but I didn’t personally do that," Berkley told Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius on his 8NewsNow show that aired Sept. 1.
She added she did not know if the ethics advisers got back to her staff.
But a week later, on a television show with Anjeanette Damon of the Las Vegas Sun, Berkley denied saying she had reached out for ethics advice.
"No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that," she said.
"I’ve been told by the Ethics Committee not to say anything till their investigation is done, and then everything will be on the table," Berkley told Damon.
Since then, Berkley staff members similarly have said they are unable to comment.
Republicans have gleefully jumped into the vacuum.
"What is Berkley Hiding?" was the headline on a Web ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The campaign of U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, her Republican opponent, trumpeted that Berkley "can’t seem to keep her story straight."
On Wednesday, Washoe County Republican Chairman Dave Buell called the inconsistency to the attention of the House Ethics Committee leaders, saying in a letter it "may be relevant to your committee’s ongoing investigation into Congresswoman Shelley Berkley’s troubling conduct."
Responding to the latest GOP attacks, Berkley spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said, "This is just another attempt by Republicans to distract from Senator Dean Heller’s record."
– Steve Tetreault
GROUP QUESTIONS ENSIGN CASE OUTCOME
When former U.S. Senate aide Doug Hampton drew a year’s probation on Sept. 5 for skirting a federal lobbying law, it was thought that would be the final turn in the scandal that ended the political career of his one-time boss, former Sen. John Ensign.
But maybe not.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, went to court last week to seek answers to one of the mysteries in the case: Why Ensign was not prosecuted after having an affair with Hampton’s wife and was then accused of complicity in a cover-up.
The group filed a lawsuit on Sept. 10 against the Department of Justice, charging the agency improperly is withholding documents being sought under the Freedom of Information Act.
The watchdog group, which has bird-dogged the Ensign case ever since the Nevada Republican admitted to the affair in June 2009, is trying to find out why the government closed an investigation of Ensign and decided not to pursue charges.
The FBI, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys and the Justice Department’s criminal division declined to provide documents, citing Ensign’s privacy interests.
According to the group, judges rejected similar privacy claims in ordering the FBI to turn over documents in investigations of two other lawmakers, U.S. Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and Don Young, R-Alaska.
Looking into the same matter, the Senate Ethics Committee in a May 10, 2011, report said it had found evidence that Ensign conspired to violate the lobbying law, made false statements, violated campaign finance laws and obstructed the committee’s investigation.
Ensign resigned from the Senate on May 3, 2011, nine days before the ethics report was made public.
While expressing regret over his behavior, Ensign has insisted he did not violate any laws and resigned to spare his family from further depositions and proceedings to clear his name. He has returned to his veterinary practice in Las Vegas.
– Steve Tetreault
SKATEBOARDERS ON SERIOUS BUSINESS ONLY
Skateboards will be permitted on legislative grounds only for people using them for transportation, Nevada lawmakers decided Friday.
Rick Combs, administrator of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, told members Friday that the plan would stop people from using bikes and skateboards for "play." As they do in public places across the state, youthful skateboarders frequently roam through the legislative complex making jumps off concrete steps and benches. The regulation will allow police to cite them or issue warnings.
"We are deciding that the skateboard is a valid means of transportation, as long as you are not playing with it," quipped state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.
State Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, then teasingly asked if state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, would be permitted to place an oversized piece of farm equipment in his legislative parking place.
Settelmeyer then joked back that he didn’t know about farm equipment, but the regulation "will prevent Mr. Parks from skateboarding."
Parks turned 69 this year.
– Ed Vogel
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact reporter Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.