AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Rep. Broun ethics report also raises questions about staff

The Congressional report finding "substantial" evidence that Rep. Paul Broun misused nearly $44,000 in taxpayer money by hiring a political consultant to advise his 2012 House and 2014 Senate campaigns, reported in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also includes troubling revelations about Broun's congressional staff.

The report of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) found evidence that some of Broun's House staffers believed that chief of staff David Bowser tried to influence what information they were required to provide OCE investigators.

As it was collecting evidence in Broun's case, investigators sent Broun's House office staff a request for records that could shed light on Broun's relationship to the consultant, a noted GOP debate coach named Brett O'Donnell. It's a violation of federal law and U.S. House rules to use taxpayer money to hire consultants and to use taxpayer money for political campaigns.

In response to the request, Bowser emailed staffers to say the request didn't apply to them because he didn't believe they had any relevant information. The chief of staff also indicated that staffers would not be interviewed by OCE investigators if they did not provide any documents to them.

At least one staffer interpreted the email "as expressing an expectation that Congressional Staffer certify to OCE that they did not have any information responsive to OCE's request."

The staffer later asked OCE investigators if he or she could be charged with perjury for documents or statements provided to the OCE.

"The following day," the report says, "Congressional Staffer called the OCE to inquire when Representative Broun's office would become aware that Congressional Staffer had cooperated with OCE's review. Congressional Staffer, audibly concerned and upset, explained that Chief of Staff expected Congressional Staffer to certify to OCE that Congressional Staffer had no documents responsive to OCE's Request for Information, and that Congressional Staffer feared an adverse employment action for cooperating with OCE's review."

Another staffer initially told OCE investigators that she'd had no conversations with O'Donnell about his relationship to Broun's campaign prior to her OCE interview. But at the end of the interview, the staffer asked investigators to go back on the record and said that she "had lied," and in fact had spoken to O'Donnell the morning of her interview.

The House Committee on Ethics is reviewing OCE's findings, and it's unclear what action they will take. Broun leaves office in January and the committee's jurisdiction over him will end.

Read the full OCE report here and a transcript of Broun's interview with investigators here.

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About the Author

Ken Foskett has been an AJC reporter and editor since 1989 and is the Senior Editor/Investigations.