Roskam faces House ethics probe over Taiwan trip

Lawmaker faces investigation over travel to Taiwan

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam is being investigated by the House Committee on Ethics over a $25,000 university-funded trip he took to Taiwan with his wife, but the Wheaton Republican says the panel approved the trip before he left.

The bipartisan committee posted on its website Friday that it was extending its inquiry into Roskam but revealed little else.

Roskam, though, provided documents to the Daily Herald showing the probe concerns a trip ostensibly paid for by the Chinese Culture University.

“The record reflects that Rep. Roskam fully complied with all laws, rules, and procedures related to privately sponsored travel,” spokeswoman Stephanie Kittredge said.

Still, a different group, the Office of Congressional Ethics, voted to recommend further investigation because the Taiwan government may have been substantially involved with planning the trip. Federal law bans lawmakers from taking trips paid for by foreign governments, so the probe will go on.

“The trip appears to have been organized and conducted by the government of Taiwan, with little or no involvement by the university,” reads an Office of Congressional Ethics letter.

Roskam’s spokeswoman said the committee will eventually decide whether the Office of Congressional Ethics complaint has merit. But she stressed that the documents include a September 2011 letter from the House Committee on Ethics approving his travels.

Pre-approval is required by House rules.

A story from last year by nonprofit watchdog ProPublica reported a Taiwan trip by U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, a New York Democrat, was claimed as paid for by Chinese Culture University but was actually arranged by New York-based lobbyists for Taiwan. Owens’ trip was also preapproved.

Earlier this year, a similar probe into Owens was extended. And last year, he paid back the more than $20,000 in expenses from the trip.

Roskam is a top member of the House leadership team as chief deputy whip. Lawmakers at every level often face questions based on everything from whom they take campaign donations from to who pays for overseas trips like these. Getting money or perks from groups or other interests can be seen as influencing votes or policy.

David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said trips in particular can be hard to weigh. Hands-on experience can be helpful to lawmakers deciding on complex issues.

“They can be really valuable,” Morrison said. “The other extreme is, they can just be junkets.”

The documents lay out a seven-day trip to Taiwan and back that include many calls to and visits with government officials, a visit to the National Palace Museum and a stop at the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area.

On a form seeking pre-approval for the trip, Roskam outlined why he wanted to go: “Taiwan is an important trade partner for the U.S. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, this trip will further my understanding of the trade relationship and the security issues that affect it.”

Those forms show Chinese Culture University as paying for the trip for Roskam and his wife, and forms from after the trip showed the tab at more than $25,000.

The trip lasted from a departure Oct. 15, 2011, to return on Oct. 22.

Roskam’s daughter was in Taiwan at the time. The Office of Congressional Ethics report states he says his assistant largely planned the trip but discussed “the timing of the trip and his interest in seeing his daughter while in Taiwan.”

Documents show 25 Republican lawmakers — plus their wives and staff members — were invited on the trip, but only Roskam and his wife went that week, his spokeswoman said.

In March of this year, Roskam wrote a letter waiving confidentiality with the House Committee on Ethics.

“Rep. Roskam will continue to fully cooperate, having already turned over every document and communication, made himself and his staff available for interview, waived his right to confidentiality with the House Ethics Committee, and otherwise provided any and all information regarding the trip to (the Office of Congressional Ethics),” Kittredge said.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said pre-approval doesn’t necessarily “clear him of anything.”

“You can still later be sanctioned,” Sloan said.

The House Committee on Ethics public statement was brief, and a spokesman said it wouldn’t comment further.

“The committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee,” a posting on the Ethics Committee’s website reads.

The committee has a range of different options for consequences if it finds wrongdoing, including public reprimands.

Allegations surrounding Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and her brief presidential campaign also are getting further examination from the House Ethics Committee.

The panel said in a brief statement Friday it is extending until at least September a review of Bachmann’s case, which was referred to it by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative body. The panel said it would announce any further action by Sept. 11.

The committee announced similar extensions of OCE investigations for two other members of Congress: Reps. Tim Bishop, a New York Democrat, and John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat. The panel said it would announce further action on those cases, too, in September.

Ÿ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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