The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it had initiated probes into four lawmakers, including Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill., a member of the House GOP leadership.
The secretive panel released the names of the lawmakers it was looking into, but little else. All four cases were referred to the lawmaker-run committee by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
Roskam is near the top of the House GOP leadership hierarchy, designated as top lieutenant to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in counting votes ahead of floor tallies. His spokeswoman, Stephanie Kittredge, said in a statement that the probe was related to a trip Roskam took to Taiwan that had been previously approved by the ethics panel.
"The OCE is wrong to take issue with the involvement of the Government of Taiwan in planning and conducting the trip, a matter that is routine, allowed under the law, and was known to the House Ethics Committee as they thoroughly vetted and approved the trip," she said. Roskam took the unusual step of releasing the preliminary OCE report on the matter in hopes of clearing his name. "He fully expects the clear and indisputable facts of the case to speak for themselves," Kittredge said.
Besides Roskam, the committee said it had opened inquiries into Reps. John Tierney, D-Mass., Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., and Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
The Bachmann case has been widely publicized, as she faces multiple probes into her staff and campaign committee. There are ongoing inquiries, according to reports, by the FBI, the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee (related to her presidential bid), and the Federal Election Commission.
Bachmann has already said she is not running for reelection in 2014.
Her attorney, William McGinley, noted that the Ethics panel's taking up the matter does not indicate any violation has occurred. "It does not speak to the merits of this matter, and any inference to the contrary is false," he said. "We are confident the committee will discover, upon proper review, that the highly politicized allegations made at the OCE level were baseless and without merit."
Tierney, meanwhile, has been dogged by the legal woes of his wife's family. One of his brothers-in-law was sentenced last year to prison for his part in a multimillion-dollar offshore gambling ring. Tierney, whom Republicans targeted for defeat, won reelection narrowly. It is not clear whether the ethics probe is related to the gambling ring.
In a statement, Tierney said the probe was related to gifts his wife received from her brother "in appreciation for caring for their dying mother and his three children who were without parental supervision."
"I welcome the opportunity to finally put this issue to rest after years of my opponents attacking me and my family," he said. “There is nothing new that has not already been reviewed in both a court of law and by the voters of my district who sent me back to Congress in two subsequent elections."
Bishop, meanwhile, was the subject of a story last summer in Politico that said the New York Democrat's staff had sought a $10,000 donation from a person who asked for the congressman's help in obtaining a fireworks permit. Later, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named him "one of the most corrupt members of Congress."
Again, the Ethics Committee did not reveal the subject of its inquiry. Bishop's office also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In all four cases, the committee said it would have more to say about the probes on or before Sept. 11, 2013.