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Brown's actions tarnish Congress

Published Sep. 27, 2005

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown seems incapable of coming clean as questions mount about her judgment, integrity and business ethics. The Jacksonville Democrat must think she can stonewall Congress like she has the people back home. But the House Ethics Committee has good reason to continue its investigation, especially this election year. Voters deserve answers about Brown, and about Congress' ability to police itself.

The ethics committee is examing whether Brown and her family accepted illicit gifts from African millionaire Foutanga Sissoko, who went to prison for bribery. Brown stayed at Sissoko's luxury Miami condo while she lobbied for his release. Sissoko's top financial aide gave Brown's daughter a $50,000 Lexus that a Sissoko attorney later claimed he heard was actually intended for the congresswoman as a thank-you gift.

Brown hasn't said much. She tried to have two St. Petersburg Times reporters arrested for covering the story. In a recent deposition for a lawsuit by the Dubai Islamic Bank, which has accused Sissoko of stealing more than $240-million, Brown claimed the Lexus was bought without her knowledge and she paid Sissoko for her Miami stay.

But the story gets muddier. Brown also claims she threw away files on the Sissoko case because "I didn't feel I had any use" for them. She leaves unexplained key details about her relationship with Sissoko and the circumstances surrounding the Lexus. Brown also hasn't cleared up broader questions

about her longstanding financial problems, her failure to disclose debts as required of members of Congress and her ability to repay debts without disclosing how she raised the money.

The ethics committee has a responsibility to put politics aside and consider the damage Brown has caused to the image of Congress. Ethics laws exist to give Americans faith in the people running their government. If the panel closes the case without clearing the air, it would tell Brown and other members they may ignore disclosure requirements, mislead constituents and engage on the side in social and financial affairs that compromise the integrity of elected office. Either public service is a sacred trust or it's not. We know Brown's view. Now what about the committee, ranking Democrats and the congressional Republican majority?