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Ethics Committee May Probe Rep. Richardson

The House ethics committee may determine as early as Thursday whether to pursue an investigation of Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.).Richardson spokesman Jeff Billington demurred when asked about the investigation, stating: “We’re just waiting to hear.— The Los Angeles Times has reported that the California lawmaker is the subject of an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation.The OCE reviews suspected rules violations and recommends investigations to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the House ethics committee.The House ethics committee is expected to complete its review of the OCE inquiry as early as Thursday. At that point, it could either release the OCE report — including “findings,— which could include e-mails and other documents collected during the probe — or opt to open its own investigation into Richardson, which would delay the report’s release for one year. It is not clear what allegations the OCE reviewed. The office does not comment on its investigations. But the Times reported in July that OCE investigators were examining transactions involving Richardson’s Sacramento, Calif., home, which was foreclosed upon, sold and then subsequently returned to the House lawmaker in mid-2008.The Times reported that OCE investigators contacted real estate investor James York, who had purchased Richardson’s home at auction in 2008 before Washington Mutual repossessed the home and turned it back over to Richardson. York sued, but that lawsuit was settled privately.The newspaper also reported that the OCE had interviewed Richardson’s neighbors, who have complained about the state of the property and paid both professional gardeners and local children to clean the yard.The House ethics committee has not publicly identified Richardson as the subject of a review, although it has acknowledged it is evaluating unrelated OCE probes of both Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.).The ethics panel may review an OCE referral for up to 90 days: an initial 45-day period, following by an optional 45-day period. If the committee opts to use the second 45-day allowance, it must publicly announce its decision to do so and identify the Member under review, but not the allegations or rules being examined.However, if the OCE refers an investigation to the ethics committee as “unsolved— because of a tie vote among its six active board members, the ethics committee is not required to make a public statement on its review at the 45-day mark. The ethics committee is also not required to report its preliminary actions on matters the OCE has recommended for dismissal.In mid-September, the panel voted to extend both the Waters and Graves probes. The 90-day period for all three probes expires next week.

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