Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks On Coconut Road Earmark Investigation

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of Senator Boxer’s amendment proposing a Department of Justice investigation into the Coconut Road earmark controversy: 

“I would like to say a few words about the amendments offered by Senators Coburn and Boxer regarding an investigation of the Coconut Road controversy.  As many of my colleagues know, there are reports that a Member of the House of Representatives arranged to have the text of the 2005 highway bill changed during the enrolling process, after the bill had passed both Houses.

“The facts are not yet all known.  But if these allegations are true, this is one more example of the corruption that permeated the Congress in recent years.  Two Congressmen went to prison for corruption, and others remain under investigation. 

“Last year, the new Democratic Congress passed S. 1, the most sweeping lobbying and ethics reforms in American history in an effort to restore public trust in the Congress.  These reforms are already changing the way business is done in Washington.  Lobbyists have less influence, and there is more transparency in the legislative process.

“We all agree that any misconduct in the legislative process must be fully investigated.  Specifically, we want to get to the bottom of this alleged misconduct involving the Coconut Road provision in the 2005 highway bill.  The only disagreement between Senator Coburn and Senator Boxer is how that investigation should be conducted. 

“Certainly, an investigation into the conduct of a Member of the House of Representatives should start in the House Ethics committee.  But, our Constitution does not provide the Senate with authority to direct a House committee to initiate an action.  The Coburn amendment proposes a committee of members from both the House and Senate to conduct this investigation.  But Senators cannot – and should not – Investigate a House member any more than House members could or should investigate a Senator. 

“Although Senator Coburn’s goal of fully investigating the incident is worthy – and a goal we all share — the Senator from Oklahoma’s amendment is at odds with Article I of the Constitution.  And, if we send this constitutionally dubious amendment to the House, it could jeopardize the entire highway technical corrections bill.  

“That is why Senator Boxer has proposed that the Justice Department review the allegations of criminal conduct.  According to public reports, the Justice Department and the FBI may already be investigating related matters and, possibly, even this precise matter.  If violations of federal criminal law occurred, it is the province of the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate and prosecute them.

“The Boxer amendment simply calls on the Justice Department to review the allegations of impropriety and find out if federal criminal laws have been broken.  This amendment asks the Justice Department to act ‘consistent with applicable standards and procedures.’  That phrase recognizes the important separation of powers and due process concerns involved any time the executive branch is reviewing the legislative process.“This language incorporates the principles, privileges, and responsibilities that guide Congress’s exercise of its constitutional authority to discipline itself.  It also remains true to the principles of legislative autonomy and fair, neutral enforcement of the laws. 

“The Boxer amendment does not waive any legislative privileges of Members or committees of Congress.  It does not seek to intrude upon the constitutional duty of each House of Congress to discipline its own Members.  Nor does it alter the duty of the Executive Branch to faithfully execute the laws.

“The amendment simply memorializes the reality that there are serious allegations here that may rise to the level of criminal violations.  It is entirely appropriate for the Justice Department to assume this responsibility.  For these reasons, I urge my colleagues to support the Boxer amendment and oppose the Coburn amendment.”