Reports on Newman, Lamborn detail ethics allegations

Unclear how House Ethics Committee will proceed

Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 24, 2022 at 7:07pm

The House Ethics Committee on Monday released details of Office of Congressional Ethics reports on two members, Reps. Marie Newman, D-Ill., and Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and said that the committee would continue to review the referrals.

Newman’s situation concerns whether she offered a job to someone in exchange for that person forgoing a primary run against her.

According to the OCE report, Newman was aware of Iymen Chehade’s intent to run in the 2020 Democratic primary for the congressional seat she holds when she entered into an employment contract offering him a job in her office if he didn’t run against her and she won, the Office of Congressional Ethics found.

“In summary, the evidence collected by the OCE supports a finding that Rep. Newman had knowledge of Mr. Chehade’s intent to run for the 2020 congressional seat when she knowingly entered into an employment contract with Mr. Chehade promising him future employment in her official office if he did not submit or announce his candidacy for the same congressional seat,” according to the OCE report.

The OCE found “there is substantial documentary evidence demonstrating that Rep. Newman at the very least had knowledge of Mr. Chehade’s intent to run in the 2020 Democratic primary.”

The issue stems from a lawsuit filed by Chehade in which he sued Newman for allegedly violating the contract, which would have given him a senior job making up to $140,000 in her congressional office, a suit that was settled for an undisclosed amount.

“In an effort to induce Chehade not to run against her in the primary, Newman offered Chehade employment as Foreign Policy Advisor and Legislative or District Director,” Chehade's suit alleged.

Newman told the OCE that she didn’t have any discussions with Chehade on his interest in running for the the seat in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District in 2020 prior to receiving a proposal on Oct. 27, 2018. Newman provided the OCE an email dated Oct. 27, 2018 to Newman from Chehade that summarized an earlier meeting they had on employment negotiations. Attached to that email was a proposal from Chehade for the employment contract detailing the terms and conditions, which included the following language: “Overview: Chehade agrees not to announce or submit his candidacy for election to Congressional Representative of the 3rd District of Illinois. In exchange, Newman will hire Chehade as her Chief Foreign Policy Advisor.”

“When the OCE asked Rep. Newman about the October 27, 2018 proposal email, Rep. Newman asserted that upon receiving the email, she was ‘... outraged and incensed.’ She stated that she sternly communicated her negative reaction to Mr. Chehade’s language in the proposal over a telephone conversation,” the OCE report said. It added that Newman’s assertion of “outrage,” and a follow-up phone call on Chehade’s potential candidacy, is “not supported by the documentary evidence.”

In a Nov. 2, 2018 email, Newman replied to Chehade’s proposal email with no outrage, saying “most of it looks good” and that Newman’s concerns were about “phraseology.”

 The two entered into “a detailed employment contract where Rep. Newman agreed to employ Mr. Chehade should she be elected to Congress,” according to the OCE report.

Newman’s office responded to the OCE report by downplaying the findings.

“Recently, a right-wing organization filed a politically-motivated complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) regarding a dismissed lawsuit. The materials produced during the committee’s review overwhelmingly demonstrate that the ethics complaint is completely meritless,” Pat Mullane, a Newman spokesperson, said.

Chehade was not interviewed by OCE because he declined to cooperate, citing concerns of violating a nondisclosure agreement signed as part of the lawsuit’s settlement.

Federal law states a candidate who “directly or indirectly promises or pledges the appointment, or the use of his influence or support for the appointment of any person to any public or private position or employment, for the purpose of procuring support in his candidacy shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

The OCE report on Newman was released by the House Ethics Committee, which is still examining the matter and, unlike the OCE, has the authority to discipline members.

Lamborn report

The House panel also released an OCE report on Lamborn.

The OCE report detailed the allegations against Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The OCE report found Lamborn’s office performed personal and campaign-related tasks for the Colorado Republican, his wife and son during official work hours and using official resources.

“While several relevant witnesses refused to interview, and Rep. Lamborn refused to provide relevant documents requested as a part of this review, the OCE uncovered evidence showing a pattern and practice in Rep. Lamborn’s office of official staff conducting personal and campaign-related tasks for Rep. Lamborn, his wife, and other family members during official work hours, and using official resources,” the OCE report said.

Lamborn is being sued in federal court in Colorado by a former employee, Brandon Pope, who alleges he was retaliated against by the lawmaker for trying to protect employees from unsafe working conditions he said Lamborn fostered during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in Pope’s firing. The litigation is currently in discovery.

The OCE found that Lamborn’s wife, Jeanie, played a role in the office that exceeded what is permissible for spouses. Testimony obtained from staffers in the office showed Jeanie was “deeply involved in all personnel aspects” of the Colorado Republican’s office, including hiring, firing and promotions in the office.

Staffers recalled to the OCE that Jeanie received all D.C. and district staffer daily reports, which were described as summaries of what each district and D.C. staffer worked on in a given day, and to track the work of each specific staffer.

At least one current congressional staffer reported running errands for Jeanie as an “unofficial errand” in the daily reports during a lunch break.

Jeanie regularly made requests of staff on campaign-related matters , like picking up mail, and personal errands or services. She made these requests by contacting staff through calls, texts or email during work hours, which Lamborn confirmed in his interview with the OCE.

“Mrs. Lamborn’s significant involvement in Rep. Lamborn’s office led former staffers to feel that they were required to comply with her requests,” according to the report.

At least five current and former staffers said they performed personal tasks for the Lamborns, with three current staffers saying they did so voluntarily.

“The Board notes that regardless of whether these activities were voluntary or not, none of the witnesses indicated that the official time used to conduct these tasks was made up, or that any policies or procedures existed that would allow for such an arrangement in the congressional office,” the report said.

One witness said district staff would regularly leave the office to perform tasks for Jeanie and that she asked for personal favors, including picking up campaign-related mail, personal mail and other similar tasks.

A third witness recalled specific days in which Jeanie asked him — during official work hours — to help her move furniture or schedule personal virtual meetings.

A Lamborn spokesperson cast aspersions on the staffers and said she expects her boss to be cleared.

“Congressman Lamborn is confident in the professional approach the House Committee on Ethics is taking to review the information collected by the overzealous Office of Congressional Ethics. Our office has demonstrated to the OCE in our rebuttal that these false and unfounded allegations have no merit. It is extremely disappointing that two disgruntled former staffers have weaponized the ethics process for political and personal purposes,” Cassandra Sebastian, a spokesperson for Lamborn, said. “Congressman Lamborn intends to cooperate fully with the bipartisan House Committee on Ethics, just as he did with all reasonable requests of the OCE. He remains certain the committee will ultimately reach the appropriate decision by dismissing the OCE’s referral and he expects to be fully exonerated."

When Lamborn’s daughter-in-law became a naturalized citizen in 2020, the Lamborns and Dale Anderson, the chief of staff, instructed congressional staff to plan and host a celebration in the district office, the report said. The OCE said the information it gathered suggests Lamborn’s office does not hold celebrations for constituents who become American citizens.

“When asked how many times there has been a celebration for a constituent becoming a citizen, Witness 2 stated ‘none that I can think of’ and Witness 3 stated ‘[w]e would never do that because it is not a professional -- this was a personal, social group,’” the report said.

On another matter, Lamborn’s son moved to Washington, D.C. from New York City in 2020. Current and former staffers told the OCE Lamborn and Jeanie asked them to help their son with his federal job application process.

Lamborn said he asked the staff “to give him the same [sic] -- understanding that this is the same that they would do for any veteran who was also a constituent.” Though Lamborn said his son got the same assistance as an ordinary constituent would get in the job hiring process, the OCE found testimonial and documentary evidence that indicates otherwise.

A fifth witness and former Lamborn staffer told the OCE he was told by Anderson, the chief of staff, that Lamborn’s son was coming into the office and that he was to help him with whatever he needed in the job application process. That former staffer said he spent several hours providing extensive guidance to Lamborn’s son, including reviewing his resume, evaluating job postings and helping with mock interview questions. He also told the OCE these were not tasks he would do for ordinary constituents. This witness sent Lamborn’s son several links to federal job postings in September of 2019, and in emails exchanged in October of that year followed up with the son on the job process. These were using his official House email account.

At least two other staffers were involved in helping Lamborn’s son with the federal job hiring process, the OCE said in its report.

On special occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays, staffers recalled hosting celebrations for Lamborn and his wife in which staff would provide a gift to them. Though the current staffers interviewed said they contributed voluntarily, some prior staffers told the OCE that the gift giving was “obligatory.”

“Witness Five” told the OCE he would receive an email from Anderson before the holiday or Lamborn’s birthday instructing him to provide a gift. “He did not interpret it as a voluntary request,” the OCE said. The first witness “recounted feeling compelled by Dale Anderson to cover the expenses for the gifts.”

It is unclear when or how the House Ethics Committee will proceed on these two matters.