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Donald Trump bashes House GOP move to weaken ethics watchdog

Limiting the ethics committee

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday slammed House Republicans for voting a night earlier to strip the chamber’s outside ethics watchdog of its power and independence.

Mr. Trump made his position clear on the matter on Twitter, less than two hours before the new Congress gavels into session.

While Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, opposed the move, a majority of Republicans in their conference voted to rename the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. The House Ethics Committee--whose members are lawmakers--will now oversee that outside office’s work.

Ryan put out a statement Tuesday morning just after Mr. Trump’s tweets acknowledging that the outside office is in need of reform, but said that the move won’t weaken overall ethics oversight.

“I want to make clear that this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the Office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress. The Office will continue to be governed by a bipartisan independent outside board with ultimate decision-making authority,” he said. “I have made clear to the new Chair of the House Ethics Committee that it is not to interfere with the Office’s investigations or prevent it from doing its job.”

Under the change proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, the outside office can no longer investigate anonymous tips, it can’t have a spokesperson and can’t release its findings to the public. Members of the House Ethics Committee will also be able to stop the office’s investigations. 

The lower chamber is expected to vote on the change as part of the full rules package Monday afternoon.

House Democrats created the independent watchdog after the lobbying scandal involving Jack Abramoff. After the vote Monday night, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, slammed Republicans.

“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” she said in a statement. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

Mr. Trump’s disapproval, coming just a few weeks before his inauguration, may just be the start of disagreements that might emerge between the new administration and the GOP-controlled Congress.

CBS News’ Catherine Reynolds contributed to this report.

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