Tue, Jul 30, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Probe of US lawmaker’s visit extended

TROUBLE OVER TAIWAN:A second member of the US House of Representatives, Bill Owens, is being investigated over a trip sponsored by the Chinese Culture University

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

A US congressman is under investigation by the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics for taking an all-expenses-paid, eight-day trip to Taiwan.

Republican Representative Peter Roskam, 51, and his wife, Elizabeth, traveled to Taiwan in October 2011.

At the time their daughter Gracey was teaching English in Taiwan.

Roskam has said that the Chinese Culture University sponsored the visit, but the independent Office of Congressional Ethics says it was an “impermissible gift” from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US (TECRO).

The trip appeared to be “organized and conducted by the government of Taiwan, with little or no involvement by the university,” the ethics office said.

“There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Roskam accepted payment of travel expenses for an officially connected trip to Taiwan from an impermissible source, resulting in an impermissible gift, in violation of federal law and House rules,” the office said.

“We fully complied with all laws, rules and procedures,” said Stephanie Kittredge, Roskam’s spokeswoman.

The ethics office referred the case to the House committee after an investigation concluded Roskam might have violated House rules and federal law.

The story was first reported by the Chicago Tribune on Friday last week.

The Republican chief deputy whip in the House, Roskam has been in Congress for six years and his visit to Taiwan involved meeting government officials and sightseeing.

Under US law, foreign governments cannot pay for congressional trips by unless they are authorized under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA), which does not allow the travel expenses of lawmakers’ spouses to be covered.

According to documents released by Kittredge, Roskam was first invited in May 2011 to join a MECEA trip sponsored by the Taiwanese government.

Only after he decided to take his wife along were the arrangements changed so that the visit could be privately sponsored by the Chinese Culture University.

The documents show that the university was a “non-cooperating witness” in the Office of Congressional Ethics’ original investigation and that TECRO would not make officials available for interviews.

The ethics committee — now in control of the case — has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses and order testimony under oath. It also has the power to sanction lawmakers who violate the law or House rules.

A committee official said the committee would decide on its “course of action” by Sept. 11.

Roskam and his lawyers maintain that the university sponsored the trip, that it was completely legal and that it was approved by the ethics committee in the first place.

The trip was routine, allowed under the law, and “vetted and approved” by the committee, Kittredge said.

“He fully expects the clear and indisputable facts of the case to speak for themselves, that both he and his staff have acted in accordance with all laws, rules and regulations,” she said.

Roskam is not the first member of the House to face an ethics committee probe over a visit to Taiwan.

In February, the committee announced it would investigate a the trip Democratic Representative Bill Owens and his wife took to Taipei in December 2011, to determine if it had been paid for by the Republic of China government and its US-based lobbyist at the time, Park Strategies.

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