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House votes to formally reprimand Richardson

By Alan Silverleib and Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Thu August 2, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rep. Laura Richardson objects to several facets of the ethics investigation
  • Richardson, a California Democrat, is cited for misuse of staff
  • The full House votes for a formal reprimand and $10,000 fine
  • The House ethics committee says Richardson forced staff to do campaign work

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. House voted Thursday to formally reprimand California Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson for misusing government staffers for a variety of political and personal purposes.

By a voice vote, the House followed the recommendation of the House Committee on Ethics, which is divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats. The penalty included a $10,000 fine.

Richardson apologized on the House floor shortly before the vote, but also objected to several assertions made in the course of the ethics investigation.

The congresswoman is the ninth member in the history of Congress to receive a formal reprimand, a penalty with no legal ramifications and considered to be less severe than a censure. The toughest possible penalty is expulsion from the House.

Richardson's office released a statement Wednesday stating that the congresswoman "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."

Among other things, ethics committee investigators cited evidence that Richardson forced staff members to help organize and attend political fundraisers.

Her "general practice," according to one document released by the committee, was "that the district office employees were not permitted to take a break for dinner or to perform any other personal tasks before reporting to the campaign office to perform campaign work."

Employees who refused "would probably not have a job," one staffer was told.

A written statement from the panel's top Republican and top Democrat strongly criticized Richardson, who has represented Long Beach since mid-2007, for "improperly using House resources" and obstructing the ethics panel's investigation.

The report also blasted the congresswoman for impugning "the hard work" of the committee and falsely accusing investigators "of a variety of procedural error and purported violations."

Speaking on the House floor Thursday morning shortly before the vote, Richardson expressed regret that some former staffers felt "compelled or coerced" to assist her campaign efforts. But she also took issue with "what has now been stated during this debate, which is contrary to what I understood to be agreed to."

Richardson ripped what she characterized as "inflammatory suggestions in the full (ethics) committee report" released Wednesday. She also objected to the specifics of a charge related to an alleged obstruction of the ethics investigation, and criticized an alleged "prejudgment and improper influence of witnesses by the ethics committee."

The congresswoman's comments drew a strong response from Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner, the Republican co-chair of the ethics panel.

Richardson "did a disservice to the hardworking taxpayers from all corners of this country who expect and deserve more from their elected leaders," he said.

Bonner added that he was "haunted" by a statement from a former Richardson staffer who had also served in the military. The staffer is "someone who was willing to risk her life in service to her country, and ended up coming home a disabled veteran," he noted. "She told the committee, and it bears repeating, it is sad to say that I would rather be at war in Afghanistan than work under people who are morally corrupt."

Noting that Richardson's own staffers first approached the ethics panel with a variety of complaints, the panel's report emphasized that the "committee wishes to make abundantly clear that, in the credibility dispute Representative Richardson presents between herself and those of her own current and former staff whom she continues to attack, the (panel) sides with her staff."

The report said that Richardson "affirmatively sought out a resolution" with investigators "and gained specific and significant personal benefit from the resolution." The report declined to state what sort of benefit Richardson gained through her cooperation.

Richardson, 50, will face off against fellow Democrat Janice Hahn, 60, in a redrawn district in November. California's election laws allow the top two primary finishers to advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Hahn, the winner of a July 2011 special election, is the sister of former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn.

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