Whistleblower whose case led to OCE says outside ethics watchdog needed now more than ever

Source: Courtesy of Tom Rodgers
Source: Courtesy of Tom Rodgers

When Tom Rodgers heard House Republicans had voted secretly to gut the watchdog Office of Congressional Ethics, he says he couldn't help feeling a certain sad astonishment.

"I thought, 'My God, are we so flawed that we have no sense of history?'" 

An attack on the OCE may have cut Rodgers, a consultant, activist and member of the Blackfeet tribe, closer to home than most.

As a whistleblower, Rodgers helped expose the Jack Abramoff scandal, which landed the notorious lobbyist behind bars, sent a congressman to prison, derailed the career of another — and, in 2008, led to the creation of the OCE.

Having helped investigators, Rodgers "attended all of the sentences of people who were indicted or convicted." In an interview, he recalled seeing grown men sobbing in courtrooms, begging the forgiveness of the Native American people they'd systematically robbed.

Those memories aren't ancient history to Rodgers, who said he was much relieved when lawmakers met Tuesday and scrapped the plan to drain power from the OCE.

The office, he says, and safeguards against corruption and greed are needed now more than ever: "Transparency builds trust. And that's what part of this election was about," Rodgers told Mic on Tuesday.

In holding their closed-door meeting on Monday, overruling House Speaker Paul Ryan's objections and voting to siphon power from the OCE, Republicans "overreached. They overstepped," he said. 

"Their timing could not have been worse and their proposal could not have been worse."

House Speaker Paul Ryan opposed his colleagues' plan to change the ethics rules.
Source: 
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Republicans have control of both the House and Senate, and Republican Donald Trump takes the oath of office in a matter of weeks.

"They have all the levers of power now. The message of the day should not [have been] headlined, 'Republicans try to gut House ethics office,'" Rodgers said, underscoring the obvious irony. "It was almost like they were scripting their own demise."

The start of a new Congressional session and days from the inauguration of a new president, Rodgers said, simply could not have been a more tin-eared moment for members of the House to choose to wage war on an entity created to root out government wrongdoing. 

"We wonder why people outside of this sheeple town don't trust us," he sighed.

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Celeste Katz

Celeste Katz is senior political correspondent at Mic, covering national politics. She is based in New York and can be reached at celeste@mic.com.

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