WASHINGTON -- The House ethics committee has voted to create an investigative subcommittee with subpoena power to look into South Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews, a Democrat who has faced scrutiny over using campaign money to pay for a lavish family trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.
The vote was Feb. 26, but the information was just released Tuesday morning. The vote is a sign that the full ethics panel believes there are questions that still need answering.
The subcommittee "shall have jurisdiction to determine whether (Andrews) violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities, with respect to allegations that he improperly used funds from his principal campaign committee and leadership PAC for personal purposes, used official resources for nonofficial and personal purposes, and made false statements to federal officials," said a statement from the committee.
"The Committee notes that the mere fact of establishing an Investigative Subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred," the statement continued.
While the accusations about Andrews' use of campaign money have long been public, the questions about his use of "official resources for nonofficial and personal purposes" and making "false statements" appear to be new lines of inquiry, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Approached off the House floor Tuesday, Andrews said only "it's all false" and declined to answer further questions about the ethics allegations, referring instead to an earlier statement from his office.
The statement read, in part:
"This continuing review by the House Ethics Committee will establish and confirm that I have always followed all the rules and met all the standards of the House. In this process, I have always responded truthfully and accurately in all respects."
It said he will "eagerly provide any and all information requested by the Committee in response to the false and politically-motivated, and in some instances anonymous accusations."
The formation of an investigative subcommittee "is generally a pretty bad sign for you," Sloan said in an interview.
"That means people have decided that you likely have done something seriously wrong," Sloan said. "If they're going to clear you, generally this is not what happens."
As to the new questions raised by the committee, if Andrews misused office funds, it would follow that he may have misrepresented their uses on his office expenditure reports, Sloan said. She has been one of Andrews' most vocal critics.
Questions about Andrews' use of campaign money, and whether he crossed a line by using political funds for personal use, first arose in 2011. Most notably, he used $30,000 in campaign cash to pay for his family to attend a wedding in Scotland - and stay at a five-star hotel - a trip he defended as a chance to "broaden and deepen" his relationship with a onetime donor and adviser.
Ethics investigators also questioned whether Andrews had violated finance rules by using campaign money to fly his daughter to California -- where she had music recording sessions -- and for a party that served as a graduation party and celebration of Andrews' 20 years in Congress.
"There is a substantial reason to believe that he improperly used congressional campaign and Leadership PAC funds for personal use, in violation of House rules and federal law," said an August report from the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics.
That office referred Andrews' case to the House ethics committee, which makes the final decision on if there were any violations and determines any punishment. The full committee has now created the subcommittee to continue its work.
On campaign finance rules, Sloan said, the regulations are clear-cut.
"It's clear that he’s going to be in big trouble," she said. "It appears Andrews' conduct was explicility prohibited by the ethics rules. It would have been very hard for them to give him a pass."
There is no clear time frame for when the committee might make a decision.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy will chair the investigative subcommittee.
Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat from Puerto Rico, Iowa Republican Tom Latham and California Democrat Jackie Speier will also serve on the subcommittee.
This is a developing story - more as it becomes available.