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House ethics panel launches inquiry of 2 Dems, plus aide

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics committee said Monday it is investigating complaints against two veteran Democratic lawmakers and the top aide to a third Democrat. Reps. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and John Conyers of Michigan, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, are under investigation, the ethics panel said.

The panel also is investigating Michael Collins, chief of staff to Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. The independent Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the investigations, although the exact nature of the allegations is not clear.

The ethics panel said in a statement that the inquiries do not in themselves reflect any judgment of wrongdoing. Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for Lujan, said the ethics inquiry was "the result of a frivolous complaint, filed by a highly partisan outside group" about activities during a sit-in last year by Democrats urging House votes on gun control.

The complaint "is without merit," Shoemaker said. "Congressman Luján is committed to abiding by House rules, is confident he has done so in this case and looks forward to a timely resolution by the Ethics Committee."

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a conservative-leaning watchdog group, filed a complaint last year that Lujan and other Democrats violated ethics rules by using the House chamber to raise money for campaign purposes. Specifically, the group Lujan and others sent campaign emails featuring photos of themselves during the June 2016 sit-in.

The House ethics manual says House buildings, rooms and offices may not be used for campaign or political activities. The same watchdog group also complained that Collins improperly served in dual roles, in Lewis's Washington office and as treasurer for his 2016 re-election campaign.

Ethics rules bar senior House staff from serving in any fiduciary role for a political organization, and specifically cite campaign treasurer as a prohibited position for such staffers. A spokeswoman for Conyers said his office has "worked diligently at all times to comply with the rules, is cooperating with the Ethics Committee and is confident that this matter can be swiftly resolved."

The ethics panel says it will announce further steps in all three cases by Aug. 9.

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