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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cathy McMorris Rodgers ex-aide claims retaliation

A former aide to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers contends an ethics investigation into her campaign for a House leadership post is ramping up with allegations that she retaliated against him. An attorney for the Spokane Republican calls those comments “more frivolous allegations and information.”

Todd Winer, former press secretary and adviser to McMorris Rodgers, said in an email Monday he was “breaking his silence” about what he calls the congresswoman’s scandal. 

Winer cooperated with an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into whether McMorris Rodgers and her staff misused resources in her campaign for re-election in 2012 and for the office of Republican Conference chairman, the leadership position she now holds. After reviewing the allegations, the office referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which in March said it would continue to review it but did not set up a special subcommittee to investigate.

Although it was clear when the committee released the ethics office report in March that Winer participated, he had not addressed it publicly before Monday, and still refuses to comment other than by email.

“It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to talk while I was still working in Congress,” he wrote in response to a question about the timing. “Now that I’ve left Congress, it’s important for me to set the record straight.”

Until recently, Winer was the press secretary for Rep. Raul Labrador, the Republican whose district includes North Idaho and shares much of its western border with McMorris Rodgers’ Eastern Washington district. 

In his email, he said the Ethics Committee staff continues to investigate the charges, and he met with them as recently as last week. He contends the committee’s investigation is expanding to include McMorris Rodgers’ “efforts to intimidate and punish me for my cooperation with the (Office of Congressional Ethics) and the committee.”

Elliot Berke, an attorney for McMorris Rodgers who filed a 49-page rebuttal to the office report, dismissed Winer’s allegations as more of the same.

“We are sorry to see more frivolous allegations and information from the same source,” Berke wrote in an email. “From the beginning the Congresswoman and her staff have fully cooperated with the Ethics Committee and will continue to do so should it have more questions.”

The committee does not comment on ongoing investigations, said its attorney, Thomas Rust. Nothing has changed from the  committee’s statement on March 24 that said the chairman and top Democrat on the panel were extending the review, he said.

That was a step between impaneling a special subcommittee to investigate the allegations and dismissing the complaint, causing some speculation the congresswoman was unlikely to face charges or sanctions.  But a check of the committee’s website shows instances in which extended reviews have led to establishing an investigative subcommittee for a complaint.

There is no time limit for an extended review, and investigations can be carried over from one session to the next.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the committee handled 58 complaints against House members.