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Boehner: Members May Face Penalty Even Without Breaking Rules

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday his decision to ask former Rep. Mark Souder to resign is an example of his philosophy that Members must be held to a high standard of ethical behavior and can be punished even without breaking a law or House rule.

The Indiana Republican resigned earlier this month after admitting to Boehner that he had an extramarital affair with a staff member.

Boehner told Roll Call that he has spoken to several Members over the last year and a half who, he believed, had done something or came close to doing something unethical.

“I’ve had Members in here where I thought they crossed the line,” such as former Reps. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), Boehner said during an interview Thursday. “I have had others I thought were approaching the line.” Doolittle and Renzi stepped aside from their committee positions in 2007 after each of them came under federal investigation for unrelated incidents. Renzi faces corruption charges in federal court in Arizona; Doolittle has not been charged.

“Every case is different. People have tried to peg me down: What’s the standard? Where’s the line? I couldn’t tell you,” Boehner said. “I could not give you the definition except that I know it when I see it.”

Boehner said his decision to advise Souder to step aside after he confessed the affair with a female staff member was the right call even if Souder had not technically violated any rules.

“To my knowledge … the only rule that [Souder] violated was ‘the general welfare clause,’ is what I call it. Conduct unbecoming of a member,” he said. “To my knowledge, but I don’t believe there was any law that he broke.”

After a series of GOP ethical meltdowns in the 109th Congress helped catapult Democrats into the majority, Boehner said he pledged to his depleted flock that he would not tolerate Members who flouted the rules or the law.

“I say what I mean. I mean what I say. I do what I say I’m going to do,” Boehner said. “I’m the most transparent person in this town. And I’ve done exactly what I promised my Members.”

Boehner said Souder’s fall from grace has done nothing to deter Republicans from hammering Democratic leaders on their handling of the scandal involving former Rep. Eric Massa.

The New York Democrat stepped aside in disgrace in March after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed several male staffers.

As the details of Massa’s behavior unfolded, House Republicans — led by Boehner — called for an ethics investigation into what Democratic leaders knew about Massa’s relationship with his staff.

“No. No, no, no,” Boehner said when asked whether he regretted harping on Democrats for Massa’s misdeeds. “It is clear that Democrat leaders knew they had a serious problem for some time before he left. And considering it involved violations of the rules of the House, violations of law.”

The House ethics committee is investigating what Democratic leaders knew about Massa’s relationships with his staff.

Democratic leaders have said they acted quickly the minute they heard about the allegations against the New York Democrat and referred the matter to the ethics committee.