Indicted Democrat Will Be Replaced On House Committee By Democrat Under Ethics Investigation

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah has agreed to step down from his leadership position on the House Appropriations Committee after the Wednesday announcement of a multi-count fraud indictment. But the Democrat’s replacement on the powerful committee, Democratic California U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, is himself facing an ethics probe.

Fattah, 58, and four others were indicted on Wednesday on 29 counts of racketeering, fraud and conspiracy in an investigation that was sparked by a tip to the FBI in March 2013.

Fattah’s alleged duplicitous acts stretch back to 2007.

In one alleged scheme, Fattah received a $1 million contribution from a wealthy donor. The lawmaker returned $400,000 of that donation but funneled the rest to himself through an education nonprofit organization he runs.

Fattah is also accused of using campaign contributions to help repay student-loan debt for his son, Chaka Fattah, Jr. The 31-year-old has been indicted in a separate scheme to defraud the Philadelphia school district. He goes to trial for that indictment in September.

Fattah, who has been in office since 1995, also allegedly accepted at least $18,000 from Florida lobbyist Herbert Vederman in exchange for help in obtaining an ambassadorship or a position on the U.S. Trade Commission, according to the Justice Department indictment. That $18,000 transaction was hidden under the guise of a vehicle transaction that did not actually occur.

Fattah is also accused of engaging in fraud to help pay off debt from his failed 2007 campaign for Philadelphia mayor. Fattah tried — but failed — to steer a $15 million federal grant to a campaign consultant to whom he owed $130,000.

The goal of Fattah and his associates was “to further their political and financial interests,” U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said in a press conference on Wednesday.

Upon news of the indictment, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced that Fattah had agreed to step down from his leadership position on the House Appropriations Committee.

“Congressman Fattah has rightly stepped down from his position as Ranking Member on the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee pending the resolution of this matter,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Fattah has been the top Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Justice. As National Journal notes, in that role, Fattah has overseen the budgets for the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys who have now indicted him.

But Fattah’s replacement, the 74-year-old Honda, comes with his own baggage.

Politico reported last week that the House Committee on Ethics is looking into allegations that Honda’s campaign staff coordinated with his congressional staff to organize a fundraising event. If true, that would be a violation of ethics rules which requires a demarcation between a lawmaker’s campaign and congressional staffs.

According to Politico, emails revealed that Honda’s congressional chief of staff coordinated with his re-election staff to set up a roundtable discussion at the State Department.

Honda has said that the ethics complaint is politically-motivated. The Ethics Committee will decide in September whether to formally sanction Honda.

The White House is also distancing itself from Fattah who flew with President Obama on Air Force One on July 14 to the NAACP’s annual convention, which was held in Philadelphia.

Fattah posted pictures of the short trip to his Twitter account. One of those showed him posing with Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser.

On Wednesday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters that Obama was not aware of Fattah’s pending indictment at the time.

Follow Chuck on Twitter