The House ethics committee has decided to recommend that the House reprimand Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for actions related to his relationship with a male prostitute, congressional sources said yesterday.
The decision, which will be announced today, was unanimous among the 11 members of the 12-member ethics panel who were present. Rep. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) was out of town yesterday, but is expected to agree with the recommendation to reprimand Frank, one of two openly gay members of the House.
A reprimand is the least punitive of the official sanctions that the committee can recommend, but it must be put to a vote by the full House. Other more serious official sanctions that require a House vote are censure and expulsion. A vote on the Frank punishment is expected next week.
A spokesman for Frank said he would have no comment on the issue until the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct releases its report, which will be done today.
The decision to recommend a reprimand centers on two actions Frank took on behalf of the prostitute, Stephen L. Gobie, a convicted felon who was living in Frank's home. Frank acknowledged that he fixed parking tickets Gobie received while driving Frank's car and that he wrote letters on his congressional letterhead to court officials supervising Gobie's probation from his conviction on drug and sodomy charges.
In deciding to recommend a reprimand, the committee broke a months-long logjam over the controversial case, which has been before the ethics panel since last September. Committee Democrats persistently had sought to resolve the case by issuing only a letter of reproval to Frank, but several GOP members of the panel resisted, holding out for a stronger sanction that would require action by the House.
Democrats on the committee ultimately gave in, sources said, in order to break the deadlock and prevent a bruising floor fight in which their party could be portrayed as defending homosexual conduct. Democrats believed that the House ultimately would have increased the sanction from a letter of reproval to at least a reprimand in any case and that it was better to deny conservative Republicans a divisive election year issue.
Sources said that Democrats favoring a letter of reproval had some GOP support on the panel, but ultimately preferred not to issue a split decision that would invite a battle to toughen the sanction on the floor. The recommendation, said one source, "is much stronger now than if it were divided."
Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) has said he will ask the House to expel Frank once the ethics committee concludes its investigation. A spokesman for Dannemeyer said the Californian intends to make that motion, but Democrats believe they can derail it and sustain a reprimand on the floor.
Frank's relationship with Gobie was disclosed last August in The Washington Times. Frank then acknowledged that he had had a brief sexual relationship with Gobie and hired him with personal funds to serve as an aide for a period of about 18 months. Frank said he had hired Gobie in hopes of helping him to lead a better life.
But Frank vehemently denied that he had sanctioned the use of his Capitol Hill apartment by Gobie for prostitution, saying that he had fired Gobie upon discovering that he had used his home for prostitution. Though the ethics committee received some testimony alleging that Frank permitted Gobie to use his home for prostitution, witnesses including Frank's landlady disputed the charge and the panel did not find it to be credible, the sources said.
Since 1976, the House has voted six times to reprimand a colleague for misconduct. The six were:
Robert L.F. Sikes (D-Fla.), 1976: Reprimanded for maintaining a business interest in companies dealing with the defense subcommittee he chaired.
John J. McFall (D-Calif.), Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.) and Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.), 1978: Reprimanded for mishandling cash contributions from South Korean rice dealer Tongsun Park.
George V. Hansen (R-Idaho), 1984: Reprimanded after being convicted of violating federal financial disclosure laws.
Austin J. Murphy (D-Penn.), 1987: Reprimanded for diverting government resources to his former law firm, allowing another member to vote for him on the House floor, and keeping a "no-show" employee on his payroll.
Frank, a leading liberal Democrat, has remained influential in the House Democratic Caucus and faces a relatively weak reelection challenge this fall in his Massachusetts congressional district.
Staff researcher Ralph Gaillard contributed to this report.