Congressman David Wu is not running for re-election. And if Wu lasts a year and a half in Congress, he could be dogged by an ethics' investigation much of the time. All of this stems from an allegation that Wu may have sexually assaulted a young woman last fall.
OPB reporter Rob Manning has been following this story today and he joins me in the studio.
Beth Hyams: First, Wu is not running for re-election.
Rob Manning: That's right. The Oregonian reported that this morning, quoting an unnamed Democratic source. And we've since been able to confirm that with someone in David Wu's office. But beyond that, we've been able to get very little out of Wu. He issued a brief statement to The Oregonian, saying he didn't want to bring unwanted attention to the family of the young woman. And for now, that continues to be the extent of what we're hearing from Wu.
Beth Hyams: Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has asked the House Ethics Committee to determine if Wu violated rules of the House. Could that inquiry force Wu out of office before his term is up?
Rob Manning: Conceivably. But on this morning's Think Out Loud, political analyst Jim Moore talked about how the Ethics Committee tends to recommend reprimands or severe reprimands they call "censure." Moore says there's one way to force Wu out, but he didn't expect that:
Jim Moore: "The only thing that would make any difference is if they voted to expel Wu. And given the nature of the accusations, we'll have to see what happens with them, it doesn't seem that it rises to that level. Time is another issue with the Ethics Committee."
Rob Manning: By that, Moore mentioned one ethics investigation that's dragged on for a year and still hasn't been resolved. So if Wu wants to resist, an investigation can go for a long time, and while it may provide some information – the Ethics Panel can subpoena and dig up lots of stuff – but when it comes to forcing officials out, my sense is that's very rare.
Beth Hyams: But we do know, at least, that come 2013, Wu will be gone, and at this point, Oregonians have two main choices – both named Brad. Brad Avakian, the state's labor commissioner and Brad Witt, a state representative. What's been their reaction to the news that they won't have an incumbent to fight next May?
Rob Manning: Representative Witt called it "encouraging" that Wu won't seek re-election but said if he has done what's been alleged, he should step down. Witt trusts the Ethics inquiry to get to the bottom of it.
Brad Witt: "If in fact the allegations are true, this is a very troubling ramp-up in what appears to be a series of poor judgment calls and improprieties by the congressman."
Rob Manning: By "series of poor judgments" Witt is talking about a pattern of erratic behavior last fall, involving prescription drugs, and inappropriate emails and public speeches.
Wu's other challenger, labor commissioner Brad Avakian was less measured. He suggested that if there were aspects of this story that weren't true, we'd be hearing from Congressman Wu.
Brad Avakian: "The incident where he abused this girl in California, is just one in a long list of serious incidents that don't just reflect erratic behavior, but a real lack of integrity on the congressman's part. And now his decision to stay in office is just one more example of him being selfish and contemptuous."
Beth Hyams: We've mentioned already that this controversy is all swirling around a story that surfaced late Friday, and over the past few days involving an allegation by a young woman. The Oregonian first reported it as "unwanted, aggressive sexual encounter." OPB is reporting it as an alleged sexual assault. What do we know about what actually happened?
Rob Manning: Very little beyond that. The story began with a voice mail message left by a young woman, the daughter of a campaign contributor, at Congressman Wu's office. I haven't heard the message, but The Oregonian reported that it alleges an inappropriate sexual incident from last Thanksgiving. Beyond that – there are two people in a position to know – the young woman and David Wu – aren't discussing what happened publicly. So we're left not knowing what happened, or knowing what took place, or knowing how to discuss it. But it's obvious that it is being taken very seriously, and it is threatening to end Wu's political career – even without all the details coming out.
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