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House Republicans on Monday quietly voted to strip the independent power from an outside ethics panel established eight years ago following a string of corruption scandals, a move they made just hours before the start of the 115th Congress,

A measure defanging the Office of Congressional Ethics, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, will now be included in the House Rules package, which is poised for a Tuesday afternoon vote before the entire House.

The provision’s most important feature changes the OCE from an independent entity to a body that falls under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee, a 10-member, bipartisan committee of lawmakers that rarely hands out serious punishment.

Goodlatte’s provision renames the OCE the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” and said the changes were needed because lawmakers have been subjected to investigations provoked by partisan outside groups.

“The amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “It also improves upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify. The OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work.”

The OCE was established under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was ushered into the majority in part by promising to clean up corruption in Washington. At the time, a handful of House GOP lawmakers became entangled in a series of lobbying-related scandals and the OCE was established as a venue for outside groups to file ethics charges since lawmakers rarely reported each other.

The official House Ethics Committee only permits lawmakers to file ethics complaints.

The OCE is currently able to review complaints, but can’t determine guilt or dole out punishment. Instead, the office can decide whether to refer a matter to the House Ethics Committee, which has the authority to investigate and potentially issue punishment ranging from a letter of reprimand to expulsion.

Under the changes proposed by Goodlatte, outside groups can still file complaints with the OCE, but there would be broader rights for the accused, including limiting what the public can learn.

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The changes include “protections against any disclosures to the public or other government entities” about investigations and requires “greater certainty as to the commencement and termination of any review, including timely notice to the subject and Committee on Ethics.”

The new rule would ban consideration of anonymous complaints and would require “rules changes to better safeguard” the due process rights of those under investigation.

Pelosi, now the House minority leader, criticized the move in a statement late Monday. She said the changes would essentially destroy the only independent ethics office watching Congress.

“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. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

The OCE held jurisdiction over the House only. The Senate never voted to establish an outside ethics agency. Like the House, it governs itself with a bipartisan panel of lawmakers.

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In the 114th Congress, the OCE reviewed 35 complaints against lawmakers, referring 17 cases to the House Ethics Committee.

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