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Republican consultant pleads guilty in ethics case

September 8, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican consultant who worked with Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and other top GOP candidates has pleaded guilty to lying to House ethics investigators about how much campaign work he did while being paid from a Georgia lawmaker’s congressional account.

Brett O’Donnell entered the guilty plea in federal court in Georgia last week in an ethics case involving former Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.

O’Donnell, a well-known Republican debate coach, helped Romney during the 2012 presidential primary debates after serving as a strategist for Bachmann’s failed presidential campaign.

O’Donnell worked for Broun from June 2012 to March 2014 and helped him with his 2012 re-election and a failed 2014 Senate bid.

The guilty plea marks the first time anyone has been charged with a federal crime for lying to the House Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent office that reviews allegations against lawmakers and staff and recommends further action to the House Ethics Committee.

According to court papers filed last week, O’Donnell received about $43,000 from Broun’s congressional office, but regularly assisted the congressman with political campaign activities, including debate preparation.

House rules and federal law prohibit members of Congress in most cases from mixing campaign funds and taxpayer-funded office accounts. Political activities and official duties are to be paid for separately.

A fact sheet submitted by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section as part of the plea agreement said O’Donnell repeatedly lied to investigators about his role in Broun’s political campaigns, apparently at the direction of a top Broun staffer.

During an interview with congressional investigators in June 2014, O’Donnell “knowingly and intentionally made several false statements” to the ethics office “in an effort to minimize and conceal the true nature and scope of his role” with Broun’s campaigns, the fact sheet says.

Among his false claims, O’Donnell told investigators that he “never felt like any of my campaign work was expected as part of my duties,” the document says. In fact, “the vast majority of O’Donnell’s services” focused on Broun’s Senate campaign, the Justice Department said.

The ethics office said last year it had found “substantial reason to believe” that Broun violated House rules and federal law by using official House funds to hire O’Donnell for debate preparations and other campaign work.

Broun did not seek re-election after losing a bid for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

O’Donnell also did consulting work for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

The House Ethics Committee said last year it will not appoint a special panel to investigate allegations that McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-highest ranking House Republican, improperly combined campaign and official funds in a GOP leadership race and her re-election campaign.

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