House Ethics Committee Extends Investigation into Mike Honda

Mike Honda finally has an excuse for sleeping on the job, as there could be some sleepless nights to come.

On Monday, the House Committee on Ethics announced that it will extend its investigation into alleged improper coordination between the congressman's 2014 campaign and House staff.

Charlie Dent (R-Penn.) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Ethics, respectively, said in a press release that a joint decision was made to extend the investigation after a referral was received June 5. The committee must deliver its next report by Sept. 3, and in between now and then subpoenas could be issued to compel witnesses to testify.

San Jose Inside broke the story last week that Honda has been the focus of an Office of Congressional Ethics review throughout the spring. Supporters of Ro Khanna, who is hoping to defeat Honda in a 2016 rematch for Silicon Valley's congressional seat, filed a complaint last fall after San Jose Inside reported emails that showed Honda's chief of staff and campaign manager coordinated invitations to an official State Department event, with the goal of tabbing guests for campaign contributions.

The emails—provided by Ruchit Agrawal, a former staffer—also showed that Honda routinely had his House employees conduct personal errands for him, such as setting up a Netflix account, on taxpayer time.

Honda's campaign did not return a call for comment, but it did send out a press release saying that "these allegations do not rise to the level of violations of House Rules." Honda has refused to publicly comment on the matter beyond noting that his chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, has apologized for her actions related to the State Department roundtable held in early 2013.

In its press release, the campaign pivoted on the news of an extended investigation by announcing that Honda will take "unprecedented action" by forbidding his House staff from working on his campaigns.

“As a result of the referral, and what I have learned about the inherent complexities presented to staff working for a congressman and volunteering for a candidate, I am taking the unprecedented action of establishing a policy prohibiting my official staff from volunteering on my campaign," Honda said in a statement. "I believe this action provides clarity for the public and a bright line for my staff that far exceeds anything required by the House of Representatives.”

Adam Alberti, Honda's campaign spokesperson, called the House Ethics Committee announcement "simply part of the process that began with a politically motivated complaint issued by Mike Honda’s opponent and his supporters during the last campaign."

Joe Trippi, Khanna's campaign strategist, said in a statement that the investigation goes beyond politics.

"We don't believe the House Ethics Committee, which is bi-partisan, would extend an investigation if there's nothing there," Trippi said. "Pay to play needs to stop. This just proves how out of touch Mike Honda has become."

While there is no denying that Khanna supporters did submit the original complaint to the OCE, Alberti and past Honda spokesmen have failed to note that the emails in question show that Honda's staff and campaign were routinely coordinating before Khanna even announced his intention to run against Honda in 2013.

Below is the statement from Charlie Dent (R-PA), chairman and ranking member of of the House Committee on Ethics:

Pursuant to House Rule XI, clause 3(b)(8)(A), and Committee Rules 17A(b)(1)(A) and 17A(c)(1), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Ethics have jointly decided to extend the matter regarding Representative Michael M. Honda, which was transmitted to the Committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on June 5, 2015. 

The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.

The Committee will announce its course of action in this matter on or before Thursday, September 3, 2015.

Below is the full statement from Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose):

The House Ethics Committee (Committee) announced today that it has received and extended a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) following the OCE’s review of an ethics complaint. Over the past several months, the OCE has reviewed complaints by Congressman Mike Honda’s opponent and his political allies that were based on allegations initially raised by a former disgruntled employee. To view the Committee’s statement, click here.

The Committee explicitly states that the mere fact that it is conducting further review of a referral, and the disclosure of such review mandated by its rules, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect any judgment by the Committee. 

“The notice by the House Ethics Committee is simply part of the process that began with a politically motivated complaint issued by Mike Honda’s opponent and his supporters during the last campaign,” said Adam Alberti, Campaign spokesperson.

The Congressman has been clear and consistent that while his Congressional Office could have and should have done better, these allegations do not rise to the level of violations of House Rules. The Congressman and his staff welcome the Committee’s review and will continue to cooperate fully with the process.

To provide absolute clarity to the public and his staff about his commitment to his office and their work, effective immediately Congressman Honda has instituted a strong and unprecedented policy prohibiting all congressional staff from volunteering on his campaign. Congressman Honda created this firewall between congressional and campaign staff activities even though such activities are expressly allowed by House Rules and campaign regulations.

“As a result of the referral, and what I have learned about the inherent complexities presented to staff working for a congressman and volunteering for a candidate, I am taking the unprecedented action of establishing a policy prohibiting my official staff from volunteering on my campaign.  I believe this action provides clarity for the public and a bright line for my staff that far exceeds anything required by the House of Representatives,” said Congressman Mike Honda.

“Mike Honda is fully prepared for his well-funded and overly-ambitious challenger to continue to raise this issue in order to deflect from the urgent issues facing the constituents of CA 17 and the accomplishments delivered by Rep. Honda.  Congressman Honda will continue to focus on the issues and doing the work that they voters sent him here to do—advocating for them,” said Alberti.

Out of respect for the Committee and its rules, Congressman Honda’s office cannot comment further until the process has finished. While Congressman Honda has proactively instituted this direct and unambiguous rule to provide clarity about the practices of his Congressional office, he will respect the confidentiality required by the Committee.  Congressman Honda looks forward to the Committee’s completion of its review and will be able to comment further at that time.

The policy adopted does exempt scheduling coordination and for the Congressman's press office to refer media questions to the appropriate place. 

Below is a statement from Ruchit Agrawal:

I am issuing this statement because Rep. Honda's campaign has regrettably chosen to personally attack me twice in the last week while attempting to address the ongoing ethics review of Honda's office first reported by San Jose Inside.

I am grateful that I live in an amazing country like America where I received a fair, fact-based inquiry from an objective authority when facing unproven accusations from a sitting member of congress.

One of the lessons I've learned from this experience is the importance of due process.   I request that all involved will allow the Congressman the same due process I received when the DA exonerated me.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

39 Comments

  1. This article refers to Dent as the “chair and ranking member.” These are two separate positions. The ranking member is Linda Sanchez (D-CA).

  2. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

    What intrigues me the most is rather than admit some fault, Mike’s office chooses to call out Ro (not by name) “Mike Honda is fully prepared for his well-funded and overly-ambitious challenger to continue to raise this issue in order to deflect from the urgent issues facing the constituents of CA 17 and the accomplishments delivered by Rep. Honda. “

    It would have been a lot classier to not frame this as a political attack. Josh, I’m gonna love seeing you dig deeper on this. Of course, you’ll have your usual attackers accusing you and this site of being, “Bought and paid for by Khanna” I just can’t wait for your digging to be at that point where it was during the Shirakawa/Campos saga. Those folks won’t have any more excuses to Mike’s actions, and will just sit there quietly eating crow pie.

    • Maybe they frame it as a political attack because it was. Agrawal has previously filed this complaint and the OCE declined for lack of evidence.

      But then Khanna’s campaign manager, Tyler Law prodded Agrawal to refile, even offered to have Khanna stand by his side at the press conference. Agrawal wanted to move on with his life and did not want the restraining order stuff to go public. Apparently Khanna and Koehn convinced him he could do this anonymously. They had to know Honda would pushback and try to discredit Agrawal, they didn’t care.

      However the investigation turns out, Agrawal was a just pawn in Khanna’s political attack and he has paid a price. Ugly stuff.

      • LOL!!! I can’t tell if you are a Honda staffer in disguise or just plain delusional. This is the most ridiculous and absurd argument that I’ve heard so far. If you are going to make such claims, then back it up with evidence. This so stupid, it’s not even worthy of a rebuttal. Give me a break!

      • Mr. Cortese, again struggling to work this comment thread, no reply button. This is in reply you your question above.

        When prospective employers googled his name, Josh Richman’s article was one of the top hits. A part of his past he’d rather not have highlighted.

      • It is more than a bit naïve to whine that this is a political attack. Of course it is. So what? Do you think his supporters would rat him out? It doesn’t make any difference who turned Honda in, or why. The only point is: did he or did he not do the things he is charged with doing?

    • Your opinion on this matter is of little consequence & of even less interest to San Jose voters. For someone with your political acumen & family connections;you couldn’t do any better than 4th place in your ill-advised 2010 campaign for the Council Seat in District 9 ? 1,265 votes in a city of 1,000,000 is a pretty egregious showing & certainly indicates little local support for your political views. For those of you at home that represents less than 8% of District 9 voters & less than 1% of all registered voters. This proves that quite few have ever agreed with him on the issues important to the people of San Jose. You could always run again Michael,although it’s likely you’ve embarrassed yourself & your family enough already ? Dominic & Dave have no doubt done everything in their power to thwart you from announcing another feckless run for elected office. Why don’t you enter the Witless Protection Program & just disappear completely ?

      • Frank earlier today I complained to the editor about your general tone. You had several comments removed because of it. If you want to debate, that’s fine. If you want to give an opinion on the article, that’s fine as well. Just don’t attack others for having an opinion that doesn’t agree with yours. Be nice, play by the rules.

        Addressing your comment though, garnering 8% of district voters having only spent $500 on my campaign is pretty darn good in my book. It puts my cost per vote well below anyone else in the race, even the 5,6,7th place guys.

        I was offered $10k seed to run a rematch against Rocha. I’ll have much more than that by the time he terms out and the field is cleared.

        >Dominic & Dave have no doubt done everything in their power to thwart you from announcing another feckless run for elected office.

        Really? If you’re here to share your inside info, out with it. I’m sure it would be a much more interesting story than the one about old snoozing Hondo. I’m sure the readers would find it fascinating.

        • How dare you lecture me,your audacity is only exceeded by your unmitigated gall. I’m not the one who started the personal attacks,but I’ll certainly continue to respond to any & all attacks directed toward me with candor,wit & vigor ! Since it’s quite apparent that Josh Koehn is an undisputed leader of Ro Khanna’s lynch mob it’s comes as no surprise that you can influence him to censor my critical comments once they’ve been posted. If you look up the word biased in the dictionary along with the definition there’s a picture of Josh Koehn. Censorship is a very dangerous thing & the apparent lack of journalistic integrity displayed here by the editorial staff at San Jose Inside is appalling. In my opinion both Mr.Khanna & Mr. Koehn ironically have both displayed a glaring lack of morals,scruples & ethics in this matter. I’m entitled to my opinion whether you happen to agree,disagree or are terribly offended by it. Since I haven’t used any profanity of any sort I demand that my missing comments be restored immediately. Michael,you on the other hand are just a sniveling baby & if that hurts your feelings & makes you cry why don’t you run home & tell your momma again !!!

          • Frank, I’m not here to trade insults with you. It’s the rules of the site, just follow them and have a nice time with myself and others here.

            Seriously, this site isn’t the fulcrum of San Jose politics. It’s sort of a nice place where if we have opposing opinions, we get them out without bashing one another.

          • Frank, I haven’t read the comments Josh removed, but if they’re anything like the other comments you’ve left on here then I’m glad they were removed. The sad thing about the internet is how people can say such nasty things they would never have the “audacity”, “gall”, or “candor,wit & vigor” to say in real life. It’s one thing to have an intelligent discussion about politics, it’s a completely different thing to hurl insults at someone because their difference of opinion makes you angry. Your comments about Robert’s personal life have nothing to do with the pay-to-play allegations against Honda, and those bullying comments are ironic considering that Mike Honda is Chair of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus.

  3. These ethics violations are a big deal and deserve further investigation. i’m glad to see both republicans and democrats agreeing that the House Ethics Committee should proceed with a full set of subpoenas and interviews.

    However, I find Honda’s new office/campaign policies and attacks on Khanna hysterical.

    That’s like if Honda were caught driving drunk and hitting a building that he’d announce a “new” office policy clearing stating that staff were not allowed to drink & drive and certainly not near anyone or thing that could get hit. But since Honda did, that it was the fault of the building owner for getting in the way of his car and the fault of the cops for choosing to haul him in to jail. It’s obviously a political stunt cooked up by his opponents who want him to lose his seat. Ro put the building there and hailed the cops. Shame on all those Ro Khanna supporters!!! :-)

  4. Sleeping on the job ? What a brilliant lead to this story Josh,you’ve outdone yourself again. Why don’t we discuss the allegations that Ro Khanna was behind an effort to put Republicans with similar sounding names on the primary ballot in 2014 in an effort to split the GOP vote three ways. Thus assuring himself a place on the general election ballot by aiding & abetting election fraud. This certainly was a blatant attempt to mislead the voters & is a fine example of attempted election rigging. The resulting lawsuit resulted in the eventual disqualification of one of these paper candidates by a judge. Where is your sense of outrage at this self-serving & devious act ? Khanna has no more qualms about using straw men to interfere with the Republicans in primary elections than he does in using his minions to attack a member of his own party. Ro is an overly ambitious,ruthless & conniving carpetbagger who’ll stoop to any level in his narcissistic quest for political office. He’s a fine one to be leading the attack on Mike Honda’s ethics & integrity as he is certainly the one who’s unfit to serve in Congress !

    • Frank, the MercNews thoroughly investigated that attack and found Khanna and his campaign innocent of those allegations. TBH, I’m also not a fan of that whole episode as it appears some of his supporters went rogue, but whatever….

      However, you just reminded me. I did a quick search and found this cute nugget.

      Honda’s SuperPAC (“Working for US”) sent direct mail to republicans before the primary to boost GOP voter turnout for the republican candidate. That was union money (AFL-CIO) being spent on mail pieces that encouraged repealing Obamacare and cutting social security benefits. All of this to have Ro come in #3 in the primary. I would hope you’re equally disgusted by this.

      http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics/2014/05/29/ca17-labor-pac-boosts-singh-to-benefit-honda/

      • > Honda’s SuperPAC (“Working for US”) sent direct mail to republicans before the primary to boost GOP voter turnout for the republican candidate.

        Help! I’m slipping into moral confusion.

        Someone help me draw some ethical distinctions about what was different about the surreptitious mailings done by George Shirakawa, Jr., and the mailings done by the Honda SuperPAC.

      • You know of course that any coordination between Honda’s campaign & the aforementioned Super Pac would be illegal under federal election law & they’re not investigating his campaign for that,are they ? How & where the unions decide to spend their campaign funds is of course their own business, That’s why I’ll be supporting Donald Trump through the primary season & will lying to the pollsters ‘that he’s the best thing since sliced bread”. The longer he remains in the race simultaneously enraging, embarrassing & destroying the Republican Party the better as it virtually assures that a Democrat will be elected President in 2016. Besides I don’t see anyone questioning the billionaire Koch brothers motives as they surreptitiously interfere in campaigns big & small nationwide. There’s actually no need to because with rich buffoons like them it’s all about power & greed. With one Democrat in this Congressional race they win by 100,000 votes,with two Democrats in the race the marginalized right-wing Republicans voters pick the winner. I certainly don’t want my Congressman beholden to the crass Republicans whose parties base & platform is diametrically opposed to everything I believe in. I prefer my Democrats to be as liberal as they possibly can while still being able to garner enough votes to be elected. I don’t want a moderate anti-union,pro-business Democrat who needs the support of tea party Republicans to drive my beloved long-term liberal Congressman from office. Level headed Democrats felt that way in 2014 & I believe that no matter what the outcome of this investigation they’ll feel exactly the same way again in 2016 as well ! Hey,Hey Ho,Ho – Honda Yes !!! Khanna No !!!

        • So, Frank, do you agree that Honda should be keeping a binder of donors who contribute $1000+ to his campaign and then offer them political favors in return? That’s the definition of pay to play. I thought as a progressive Dem that you hate the Koch bros and the role that money plays. Isn’t this the same? I hate this when it’s from the right and I hate it when it happens (thankfully rarely) from the left. But unfortunately, it does still happen.

          I realize you might love Honda and that’s certainly your right….but the law’s the law. There are rules for a reason. I can’t recall if there’s ever been a Member of Congress from the Bay Area who’s been referred to the House Ethics Committee for a full investigation…EVER. Can you? If Honda did this, he’s toast….and honestly, deserves to be. If you could look at this objectively, you’d agree. I respect your staunch support of Honda. I really do. It’s just unfortunate that that’s blinding you to the gravity of this investigation and causing you to lash out at Khanna instead. Honda did all this….noone else.

      • “The MercNews thoroughly investigated that attack and found Khanna’s and his campaign innocent of those allegations.” Well, case closed then. Whatever a bastion of journalistic integrity like the SJMN says must be true, right?

        • Good point, Pete. Yes, the same Mercury News that didn’t do a proper vetting of the District 4 candidates BEFORE we had the runoff in June. Had the voters been informed about certain unsavory issues in the backgrounds of Manh Nguyen and Tim Orozco, we most likely would have had two better candidates in the run-off election. I think the Merc totally dropped the ball.

    • I agree that Khanna is an unsuccessful carpetbagger but that does not mean that Honda should not be held accountable for his ethics violations, if any. In district 17, where we have great disparity in income, and 75% of the people struggle with finding affordable housing, that Khanna took money from EFI. They paid their workers in rupees amounting to 1.24 an hour. I don’t want him representing me in Congress. http://abc7ne.ws/12klxZT Ethics are important all the way around.

  5. The GOP controls the House. They want to defeat Honda in the next election. They are using/abusing their control to do this fake inquiry to soil Honda’s reputation in the media.

    The only ethics investigation that should be occurring is into why the House is doing this to Honda.

    • > The GOP controls the House.

      It’s a “bipartisan” ethics inquiry.

      That’s the way the OCE is set up to do business.

      “One from your tribe and one from my tribe.”

      The are Democrat fingerprints on this one. Don’t pretend that Sleepy is just a victim of mean Republicans.

  6. I don’t live in the district and don’t really care who wins, but Khanna’s insatiable ambition is almost comical. If he doesn’t win this time, with all of his rich donors and the SJMN and SJI working tirelessly on his behalf, he really ought to quit politics and find something to which he’s better suited. Good luck making hay with the big Netflix scandal.

  7. To me, Mike Honda seems like a kindly and basically honest person. It will be interesting to see this story play out and find out if he is truly culpable here or if it’s a matter of his staff running amok without his knowledge. Either way, the buck has to stop with him.

  8. Representative Honda seems, well, not energetic. If he broke some rules it probably was because it was marginally easier to do something breaking the rules, rather than following the rules. Being a criminal takes energy. The competition in the district has perked him up a bit but he still is the least active member of congress. When does vote on bills, he generally votes in a way consistent with his district. He has taken some actions recently to protect people in other countries who were harmed in fairly distant and no-longer-controversial historic events. It probably is time for change.

  9. Apple, has 100 billion in cash off shore. Would they love to get Ro elected, You bet. Ro would protect their cash against paying taxes. Indian H-1B workers are already displacing, American engineers at Disneyland, Florida. Jobs, is one of the largest shareholders of Disney stock.

  10. After more research. Yea, I decided to stop reading Josh and his antorage of knuckkeheads, found many of Ro’s donors want their money BACK.
    This guy is a ZERO!
    These buzzilionaires, want their own lap dog Indian politicion, to do their bidding.
    Kosh, you are a zero as well.
    Bring back Jack VandZant , Please..

  11. Do You write for the Chronicle? I Love to read Willie Brown every Sunday. 3 bucks is worth his writings. Willie and an Irish Coffee, on Sunday mornings. Priceless.
    I’m taking a break for a few months,
    Mike , does not need protection,
    We, all do from Ro, and his bank rollers.. Off shore cash and no taxes paid, from many mega Billionairs , is UnAmerican, as is Indian H-1B imported workers, displacing our own tech engineers.
    . Human Trafficing, comes to mind, when I see that these Big Fat Cats, are bank rolling, a punk kid, like Mikes, Critic, who is supported by the lies of Josh and his knuckle heads.