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U.S. Rep. John Rutherford faces ethics committee probe over disclosure of stock trades

The House ethics committee's leaders announced Tuesday they would open the investigation after receiving a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — U.S. Rep. John Rutherford will undergo an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics over multiple late disclosures of stock transactions, a matter that Rutherford had said he believed he already put behind him by paying fines.

The House ethics committee's leaders announced Tuesday they would open the investigation after receiving a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Rutherford, R-Jacksonville, serves on the bipartisan, 10-member House Committee on Ethics, so the committee is reviewing one of its own members.

The committee on Tuesday released a February report by the Office of Congressional Ethics that said Rutherford did not cooperate because he would not sit down to answer questions.

Rutherford's attorney disputed that finding, saying in a March letter to the ethics committee that Rutherford had provided all documents sought by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The investigation centers on the STOCK Act that requires members of Congress to disclose stock transactions in excess of $1,000. The law is aimed at cracking down on lawmakers using non-public information gained from their positions in order to benefit financially from their investments. 

Rutherford said Friday after taking part in a ground-breaking ceremony for Financtieri Marine Repairs in Jacksonville that he had paid fines for seven overdue reports.

"Everything is done as far as I know," he said. "I paid the fine that they asked for and I'm done with it."

Click here for more from the Florida Times-Union.

The STOCK Act requires members of Congress to report any transaction of more than $1,000 no later than 45 days. The frequency of the reporting is crucial to the effectiveness of making such information public, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Each overdue report of a transaction can trigger a $200 fine.

Rutherford said the stock trades were handled by the manager of his IRA account for his retirement fund, so he didn't think that falls under the reporting requirements of the STOCK Act.

"My contention is my IRA never fit that category because I don't have direct authority," Rutherford said. "I've got a manager somewhere. I don't even know who it is who makes those purchases of stock. I'm not involved with that."

He said the argument for him falling under the STOCK Act is that he gets investment reports identifying what stock he owns.

"So I said, OK, I'm going to move all of mine into a mutual fund," he said, referring to the type of investment that bundles many stocks into a single fund.

Raytheon stock purchased same day Russia invaded Ukraine

Rutherford's financial disclosure reports show a purchase of Raytheon Technologies Corp. stock on Feb. 24, the same day Russia invaded Ukraine. Raytheon, a major defense contractor, manufactures the shoulder-fired Stinger missiles that Ukraine has used to defend itself from Russia's attacks by air.

Rutherford said the decision to purchase Raytheon stock was made by the IRA fund manager. The financial disclosure puts the value of the Raytheon transaction at between $1,001 and $15,000.

"I didn't purchase that stock," he said. "My IRA manager did."

The invasion had been expected for weeks as the White House held regular news briefings. President Biden predicted the invasion in January after Russia amassed troops on the border.

Rutherford urged holding Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable. "The U.S. and our allies must impose the maximum possible sanctions & leave nothing off the table," he said in a tweet the same day as the invasion.

The House ethics committee's investigation does not make any reference to the purchase of the Raytheon stock.

Investigation spans reports of stock trades back to 2018

The Office of Congressional Ethics, which referred the mattered to the ethics committee in February, concluded in its report there is "substantial reason to believe" Rutherford failed to file timely disclosure reports as required by federal law and House rules.

The report says that from January 2017 when he took his seat in Congress until December 2021, Rutherford's publicly available reports disclose 157 late reports of transactions valued between $652,000 and $3.5 million.

The report said the majority of the late filings occurred during Rutherford's first two-year term, but he continued to file late disclosures "in more recent years, including after several trainings on his disclosure obligations" and while serving on the House ethics committee, which he joined in February 2021.

The report shows an $800 payment by Rutherford in November 2021 for fines related to late disclosures.

The report questions whether a full accounting has been done for what the fine amount should be and says the Office of Congressional Ethics could not determine whether Rutherford had been "properly penalized for his repeated violations of federal law and House rules" because he and his chief of staff Jen Bradley did not cooperate.

The report recommended the House ethics committee issue subpoenas to Rutherford and Bradley.

Kate Belinski, an attorney for Rutherford, said in a March 18 letter to the ethics committee the past late disclosures were "an entirely inadvertent oversight" by Rutherford and Bradley based on a "simple misunderstanding of the requirements" and human error.

She said Rutherford has since fully and accurately disclosed every transaction, "paid all fines owed" and put a new system in place for tracking and filing the transactions covered by the STOCK Act.

"Despite the fact that there was and is literally nothing to investigate, OCE (Office of Congressional Ethics) launched an unnecessary investigation at taxpayer expense and administrative burden," Belinski wrote. 

She said Rutherford would continue to work with the ethics committee to resolve any outstanding questions but believes there are no remaining "unresolved issues" and "this matter has already extended well beyond its logical conclusion."

She asked the committee to dismiss the referral and take no further action, but the committee's announcement Tuesday shows it wants to look more deeply into the matter. The committee did not give any timeline for when it would finish its investigation.

Click here for more from the Florida Times-Union.


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