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.
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.