Second ethics investigation pummels Republican congressman who's already vulnerable in 2020

The OCE’s report argues that Schweikert has shown little interest in his office’s affairs, letting Schwab do essentially whatever he wanted. Among other things, Schwab collected more than $60,000 in outside income than what House rules allowed, including paychecks from Schweikert’s reelection committee. The report also repeatedly noted the “non-cooperation from Mr. Schwab, Rep. Schweikert, Rep. Schweikert’s campaign and political action committees, and Mr. Schwab’s family” and recommended that the congressman and Schwab be subpoenaed. (The OCE lacks the power to issue subpoenas but the Ethics Committee can do so.)

That’s not all. The OCE further found that there is “substantial reason to believe” Schwab contributed more money to his employer’s campaign than he was allowed to, and that he “made expenditures or received reimbursements” using taxpayer funds “that were not for official expenses.” This last bit refers to a 2015 trip back to Arizona where, in addition to doing congressional business, Schwab apparently attended a number of events, including the Super Bowl.

OCE investigators also quoted unnamed staffers saying that Schweikert’s office blurred the lines between congressional duties and campaign activities. One former legislative director said some staffers spent as much as 20% of their official work time during election years briefing the congressman on issues ahead of his meetings with potential contributors.

This same aide also told investigators that, after one organization made a donation, Schwab “asked me to set up a meeting with him to discuss their issues. Then following that meeting, we subsequently submitted letters in support of their initiatives.” The staffer continued, “What I was told is that the gentleman … donated to the campaign and that we want to be as friendly as we can and as helpful as we can because of those contributions,” and added, “I don’t think there was a direct quid pro quo, but Oliver clearly made it certain that we wanted to be helpful because he was a donor.”

The report also shed a light into a previously opaque chapter in Schweikert’s career. Throughout 2015, Schweikert professed to have little interest in challenging Sen. John McCain in the GOP primary that cycle, but he declined to rule the idea out. In January of 2016 he told a group of Republicans, “The polling was amazing, but we came to the conclusion that we’re just not seeing the money to do it.”

According to this report, though, Schweikert very much wanted the money to be there. One former staffer said, “David was putting increasing pressure on (Schwab) to raise money because David wanted to run for the Senate,” adding, “David was basically telling him, ‘I need a million dollars if I’m going to run for the Senate.’ I think that was weighing on him.” This aide recounted that Schwab was angry at Schweikert’s demands and declared, “I hate David and I hate this job.” Schweikert campaign consultant Chris Baker said in response to the OCE report, “We did not give anywhere near the level of consideration for running for the Senate as that unnamed staffer claims.”

This wasn’t the only time Schwab was documented as expressing his anger with his boss. A deputy chief of staff said that Schwab “was showing signs of severe stress and anger at the member and was lashing out at me.” That deputy added, “Basically through the entire year of 2016 he would go through these tirades against the member … about how awful David was and how he hated it and how he was going to quit.” This former staffer said that the office was “unstable” under Schwab, who had planned to leave at one point in 2016. But after Schwab decided to stay, “he became somewhat abusive to me and another senior staffer.”

Schweikert, who said Wednesday that he had yet to read the report, argued to Roll Call that he knew little about what was going on under his nose. Trying to excuse his absenteeism, he said, “I was marching along thinking things were just fine and you wake up one day and hear this inbound information on your chief of staff and you start trying to understand if you’ve made mistakes. Or your chief of staff made mistakes, that’s a better way of phrasing it.” 

However Schweikert also seemed to lay blame not only with Schwab but with another unnamed aide, saying, “We had a former staffer that was fired years ago and the rumor is that he spent a big chunk of his life trying to get vengeance on Schwab.” He added, “This has weighed really heavy on me, and I’m sorry there was a fired employee who was so angry, but I think as we go through this, if we’ve made a mistake we’ll fix it, but I can’t imagine there was anything that was intentional.”

Schweikert took the opportunity to once again say that he’d be running for reelection. He could, however, be in for a real fight. His suburban Phoenix seat has been becoming a lot more competitive in recent years: After voting 60-39 for Mitt Romney, Donald Trump carried it just 52-42. Even more alarming for Schweikert, Republican Martha McSally carried the seat by only a modest 51-47 margin in last year’s Senate race. And with a sprawling ethics mess now entangling him even further, Schweikert has put his own political future in deeper jeopardy.


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