Monday, June 17, 2019
Arizona lawmakers Grijalva, Schweikert focus of House ethics probes
WASHINGTON – Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said he expects “full vindication” after the House Ethics Committee’s request for documents involving four-year-old allegations of a hostile workplace in his congressional office.
The request this month makes Grijalva the second Arizona lawmaker being looked at by the committee. The panel has been investigating claims for more than a year that Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, may have approved improper payments to a former aide – an issue Schweikert has dismissed as a “clerical screw-up.”
Experts said the investigation of two Arizona lawmakers at once is likely “more of a coincidence than anything.” But they cautioned that neither legislator should take the probes lightly.
“There’s always a possibility that in the course of the House Ethics investigation they’ll come across other evidence,” said Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for Common Cause. “But I think the investigation is limited to the scope of what was initially referred.”
Officials with both the House Ethics Committee and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics confirmed the investigations Monday, but said they could not otherwise comment.
The Grijalva case was first investigated as a claim that a 2015 severance payment of more than $48,000 to a former staffer on the House Natural Resources Committee was improper. That worker had claimed harassment and a hostile work environment on the committee, which was overseen by Grijalva, but the claim was settled.
The Ethics Committee cleared Grijalva of the improper payment charges in December – just weeks after the allegations blazed into public view in a Twitter rant by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after Grijalva called publicly for Zinke to resign.
But the committee recently asked for additional documents from Grijalva on the hostile work environment allegation, his office confirmed. A spokesman for Grijalva defended the payment to the former staffer as “a severance package, not a settlement,” adding that there have been no additional allegations since the original complaint.
In a statement last week, after the revived investigation was first reported, Grijalva said he believes the latest review “will fully exonerate me, and I’m excited to see it completed as soon as possible.”
“I’m proud of the positive and professional work environment I’ve worked hard to create for my staff,” he said in his prepared statement. “I look forward to finally clearing this up and putting the issue to rest once and for all.”
Schweikert said much the same in May 2018 when the Ethics Committee announced its investigation of his office for possible misuse of office funds and improper campaign contributions.
The investigation centers on allegations that Schweikert’s former chief of staff, Oliver Schwab, may have paid campaign expenses on the congressman’s behalf and been reimbursed by his congressional office.
The probe also looked into the possibility that Schwab, who ran a campaign consulting business on the side, may have received more in outside income than is allowed for congressional staffers.
In comments published in Politico at the time. Schweikert welcomed the investigation, calling it “wonderful because we have been asking to have a formal review so we can present our information since almost December.”
But the Ethics Committee announced in April that it was continuing its investigation of Schweikert in the new Congress. And the Office of Congressional Ethics last week urged the committee to further review the allegations, saying it found “substantial reason to believe” the charges against Schwab.
Schwab left Schweikert’s office last summer.