House Ethics Committee Begins Ethics Inquiry Into Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi

The House Ethics Committee has created an investigative subcommittee that will handle the probe into Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., who was indicted last week in connection to an alleged fraudulent land-swap deal.

The full Ethics Committee functions much like a grand jury, determining whether there is a credible issue worth exploring. In this case, the full Ethics committee decided that was the case, and then created the investigative subcommittee to inquire about Renzi.

The investigative subcommittee will look into whether Renzi "violated Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other standard of the conduct applicable to his conduct" in office.

Federal prosecutors indicted Renzi last Friday on 35 counts of criminal wrongdoing, including conspiracy, extortion and fraud.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., will chair the subcommittee. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, will serve as the top Republican. Others on the panel include Rep. Steve Rothman, D-N.J., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Formal ethics inquiries that require an investigative subcommittee are rare in Congress. For instance, in recent years the Ethics Committee only has created investigative subcommittees to examine allegations against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas; Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; and to handle the Mark Foley matter.

But it is even more rare for Congress to establish an ethics subcommittee in the investigation of a sitting member before the judicial process has run its course. For instance, the Ethics panel has never moved against Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. Jefferson has been indicted on federal bribery charges and is awaiting trial in Alexandria, Va.