US House ethics probe of Corrine Brown on hold

US Justice Department asked subcommittee to defer its investigation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A U.S. House ethics subcommittee formed to investigate Jacksonville U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has voted to defer its work at the request of the Department of Justice.

The subcommittee was charged with looking for violations of any law, rule, regulation or standard of conduct in soliciting charitable donations, misused campaign funds or official resources, false statements or failure to make any required disclosures to the House or the Federal Election Commission.

"No other public comment will be made on this matter except in accordance with committee rules," a statement read.

Contacted by phone Wednesday afternoon, Brown said she has no comment on the investigation. Constitutional law attorney Rod Sullivan said that Brown's "no comment" was a smart move.

"At this point you don’t want to say anything to the press that you don’t have to," Sullivan said. "That's smart, because she's facing criminal charges here. This is not merely a smirch on her reputation. It could actually result in huge fines and even jail time."

But News4Jax political analyst Jennifer Carroll -- who News4Jax should point out ran against Brown in the past -- said it's possible the Justice Department might not go too hard on Brown, who's close with the president.

"As a matter of fact, she flew on the plane when he came to Jacksonville recently, so with that sort of access and influence, she could possibly work out a deal with them where her case is sealed," Carroll said.

News4Jax asked Sullivan about that, and he pointed out that this is President Obama's last year in office, and historically presidents often give out a lot of pardons in their last days. But a presidential pardon or clemency wouldn't affect what Congress can do.

"That would not stop the congressional investigation from going forward," Sullivan said. "That may have been in the minds of the congressmen when they decided to commence the investigation and then agree with the Justice Department not to continue. If the president grants a pardon, it doesn't affect Congress's ability to investigate."

Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., was appointed chairman of the subcommittee. Other members are Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

This comes as a Jacksonville federal grand jury is investigating the Virginia-based group One Door for Education, days after its founder pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Court documents obtained last week indicate hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations to One Door were solicited by Brown.

Brown is not mentioned by name in the court filings involving the Leesburg, Virginia, organization.

Questions have also been raised about a member of Brown's Jacksonville congressional office staff getting paid as a subcontractor of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority -- a group Brown works with to secure federal funding.

This is also not the first time Brown has been investigated by a House ethics subcommittee. A $50,000 car bought by an African banker registered to Brown's daughter was investigated in 1999. The report found Brown had lobbied to keep the banker's boss out of prison after a conviction for bribery. The subcommittee took no action, but its findings criticized Brown.

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