House Republicans held a closed-door meeting on Jan. 2, during which they essentially gutted the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) by a vote of 119-to-74 (video below).
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explains that the office was created eight years ago -- after some lurid scandals -- to investigate misconduct of House lawmakers and their aides.
The OCE will now be called the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, and will operate under the House Ethics Committee, which is headed by some of the lawmakers (five Republicans and five Democrats) the OCE is supposed to be watching independently, notes The Washington Post.
The OCE will now have to get permission from the Ethics Committee to investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal behavior to prosecutors, which means the Ethics Committee can block any probe by the OCE.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly opposed the vote, but their own party ignored them.
Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia sponsored the amendment for the change, which he said "builds upon and strengthens" the current arrangement, and improves due process rights of House members.
The OCE, however, never had the power to infringe on due process rights, which are protected by the Constitution. Under the OCE rules, people being investigated could be represented by a lawyer.
According to Goodlatte's office, his amendment "provides protections against any disclosures to the public or other government entities."
Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the GOP "has acted to weaken ethics and silence would-be whistleblowers," and that this new amendment "would functionally destroy" the OCE.
"Republicans claim they want to drain the swamp, but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions," Pelosi added. "Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress."
POLITICO reports that some of the lawmakers (or their staffs) who supported gutting the OCE had been investigated by the OCE: Republican Reps. Blake Farenthold of Texas, Peter Roskam of Illinois, Sam Graves of Montana, and Steve Pearce of New Mexico.