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House ethics panel finds Richardson broke law, obstructed probe

The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday called for the full chamber to reprimand Rep. Laura Richardson, accusing the California Democrat of breaking federal law, violating House rules and obstructing the committee’s investigation.

In an unusually harsh report, the panel found that Richardson flouted the law by “improperly using House resources for campaign, personal, and nonofficial purposes; by requiring or compelling her official staff to perform campaign work,” and that she destroyed evidence, failed to produce subpoenaed documents and tried “to influence the testimony of witnesses.”

The House will vote Thursday on adopting the bipartisan Ethics Committee’s findings, which include a formal reprimand and a $10,000 fine. Richardson agreed to the panel’s conclusions in a negotiated settlement. The committee also said that it had issued letters admonishing two of Richardson’s aides, Chief of Staff Shirley Cooks and Deputy District Director Daysha Austin, after it negotiated settlements with them.

One Richardson aide, the panel found, was told by Cooks that the aide “would probably not have a job” unless the aide agreed to work on Richardson’s campaign. The aide was also directed to volunteer, using a fake name, to work for Richardson’s opponent to gather information about the rival’s campaign. Richardson has also continued to require congressional staff members work on her reelection campaign, even though she has been under investigation for more than 18 months.

“Representative Richardson takes this matter with the utmost seriousness and takes full responsibility for her actions and those that were done by anyone else under her employ,” Richardson’s office said in a statement, adding that she had decided not to ask for an adjudicatory hearing because one “would consume many more months and considerable time and attention.”

In this May 12, 2011 file photo, Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) is seen outside the White House in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The panel released Richardson’s official response to the committee’s findings, stating that the lawmaker “did not intend that her staff feel compelled or coerced to work on her campaign” and that she did not “ever intend to obstruct the Committee’s investigation in any way.”

Richardson, who has faced repeated controversies since she was elected in 2007, was already in a difficult political spot. The California redistricting process has pushed her into a tough reelection fight against fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn, with Hahn favored to win in November.

The report on Richardson comes just two days before the start of the August recess. Traditionally, the panel does not release information about investigations in September or October to avoid influencing the November elections.

The committee has a handful of other matters pending, including high-profile probes of Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

The Ethics Committee voted to launch a full investigation of Richardson last November, although its initial inquiries began in October 2010. The panel cleared Richardson of wrongdoing earlier in 2010 after a separate probe into whether she improperly benefited when a bank canceled the sale of a foreclosed home Richardson owned in Sacramento.

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