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Posted at 06:45 PM ET, 05/09/2012

House ethics panel won’t launch full probe into Vern Buchanan


Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), in an October 2006 file photo. (STEVE NESIUS - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday that it continues to review allegations against Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) but doesn’t currently plan to launch a full-scale investigation into charges that he reimbursed employees for campaign donations.

Six months after congressional investigators launched a probe, the ethics committee on Wednesday released a 184-page report by the Office of Congressional Ethics that cites e-mails, voicemails and other documents alleging that Buchanan once offered to pay a former business partner $2.9 million if he agreed to sign a false affidavit claiming he knew nothing about plans to reimburse employees of Buchanan’s car dealership.

“There is substantial reason to believe that Representative Buchanan attempted to influence the testimony of a witness,” the report said, adding later that the business partner, Sam Kazran, refused to sign the affidavit because he knew that Buchanan knowingly reimbursed employees.

The House committee said in a brief statement that it is not presently planning a broader investigation of the allegations in the ethics report. It did not elaborate on why.

Nonetheless, the revelations could further complicate the political fortunes of Buchanan, who serves as the top fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee and faces a reelection challenge this year in a Sarasota-area district that includes more registered Democrats than Republicans.

In addition to the ethics panel, the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department continue to probe the allegations. But a separate three-year inquiry by the Federal Elections Commission concluded in January that there was no evidence to back the allegations against Buchanan.

Acccording to the OCE report, Buchanan’s attorney sent Kazran a seven-page proposal in October 2008 to settle various legal disputes concerning their automobile dealerships. The agreement would have required Kazran to state that prior to September 2008 he had no knowledge of any reimbursements given to Buchanan’s employees. The affidavit would have been submitted to the Federal Elections Commission.

Buchanan spokesman Max Goodman said the OCE report contains “old, recycled accusations” previously dismissed by the elections commission.

“We have full confidence that the Ethics Committee will reach the same conclusion as the FEC and dismiss these,” Goodman said.

One of Buchanan’s attorneys, William McGinley with Patton Boggs, said the report “is the unfortunate product of shoddy investigation, distorted and undisclosed evidence, and an utterly dysfunctional process that favors secrecy over truth”

The lawyer said in an interview that the report “rests on a grotesque interpretation of the affidavit” that Buchanan allegedly asked Kazran to sign. He said the OCE appeared to ignore the FEC’s opinion released in January.

In a statement, the Office of Congressional Ethics called McGinley's charges "absolutely false. The OCE conducted this review, as it does all its investigations, in a manner that was thorough and professional, taking great care to abide by the letter and the spirit of our rules and procedures."

Buchanan faces former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald (D) in November.

House Democrats established the OCE in 2008 to investigate allegations made against lawmakers. The nonpartisan office then refers what it considers to be credible allegations to the House Ethics Committee for further review. A rigorous disclosure process requires the committee to reveal the names of lawmakers it is reviewing and the allegations they face. In recent years, dozens of lawmakers have attempted to curtail the office’s powers, but Republican and Democratic leaders have resisted those efforts.

In addition to Buchanan, the OCE has referred allegations to the ethics committee against Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers, according to congressional aides.

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By  |  06:45 PM ET, 05/09/2012

 
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