Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, claimed yesterday that a letter from the House ethics committee cleared him of any impropriety in trying to help a failing thrift last year by interceding with a top banking regulator in Atlanta.
"It is clear from the committee's opinion that my actions were not only proper, but completely within the bounds of my congressional duties. Members of Congress must be able to make inquiries for all their constituents," Mr. McMillen said in a prepared statement.
Earlier this month, Mr. McMillen asked the committee to review ++ the matter after a report in the Nov. 7 Washington Post that he met -- and secretly tape-recorded his conversation -- with a federal regulator on behalf of First Annapolis Savings Bank FSB.
Mr. McMillen met to discuss ways to keep the ailing thrift open because one of its major investors, Edward O. Wayson Jr., an Anne Arundel County lawyer who had invested in the congressman's beeper company, was a business associate and campaign fund-raiser of his, the Post stated. Mr. McMillen has said he acted at the behest of the thrift's management -- not at the request of Mr. Wayson.
While Mr. McMillen asserted yesterday that the ethics committee's letter exonerated him of wrongdoing, the correspondence did not reach a specific conclusion about his visit.
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- as the ethics committee is formally known -- only issues opinions on "current or prosposed conduct" of members of Congress -- not past actions, according to the letter, signed by two ranking members of the committee, including panel chairman Representative Louis Stokes, D-Ohio.
Instead, the letter detailed House rules and other opinions that give members of Congress wide latitude in acting on behalf of constituents, including business associates.
"Matters before the Congress affect such a broad spectrum of business and economic endeavors that a member may be called to take action that may impact upon individuals or organizations with whom he shares a personal economic interest," the letter states. "House rules and precedents have a bias in favor of member participation in such matters except in unusual circumstances."
Mr. McMillen has complained that the Post article implied that First Annapolis received "special treatment."