House ethics committee continues Rep. Marie Newman probe over alleged job offer to potential rival
At issue is whether Newman improperly induced Iymen Hamman Chehade to not run against her in 2020 in exchange for a House job. Chehade is running for Congress from another district in the June Democratic primary.
WASHINGTON – In a politically damaging development for Rep. Marie Newman — locked in a Democratic primary battle with Rep. Sean Casten — the House Ethics Committee on Monday announced it will continue its probe of whether she promised a government job to Iymen Hamman Chehade in exchange for him not running against her in 2020.
The House action follows an Oct. 25 recommendation from the Office of Congressional Ethics — an independent agency — urging the panel to pursue a case against Newman.
The continuing investigation also has serious ramifications for Chehade, who is running in the Democratic primary for the open seat in the newly created 3rd Congressional District.He was suddenly added to Newman’s campaign staff last summer as a high-paid part-time consultant two days after a lawsuit he filed against her was settled, with the terms undisclosed.
Documents released by the House Committee on Monday included the OCE report, which concluded, “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Newman may have promised federal employment to a primary opponent for the purpose of procuring political support.”
The Sun-Times has learned that Newman’s Dec. 31, 2021, year-end Federal Election Commission report will show that her campaign paid Chehade $24,500 for foreign policy consulting in October, November and December — on top of $29,500 he was paid in July, August and September.
Newman denies a quid pro quo, arguing through her lawyers that she technically was not yet a declared 2020 candidate when she and Chehade signed the employment agreement on Dec. 26, 2018. The contract never mentioned anything about Chehade not making a congressional run.
That the contract exists is not an issue; Newman’s lawyers contend the ethics case against her should be dropped because the contract was not enforceable and she did not violate any “law, rule, or standard of conduct.”
The contract promised Chehade an unusually powerful job in her congressional office as a chief foreign policy adviser or district or legislative director if she won the 2020 election.
Her March 2020 primary defeat of Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., was tantamount to clinching the seat in the heavily Democratic district.
The ethics case stems from a lawsuit Chehade filed on Jan. 19, 2021, after Newman failed to offer him a job in her House office.
The suit was settled in U.S. District Court in Chicago on June 29, 2021, ending the litigation but opening up a political problem for Newman — the details of the settlement and whether part of it was putting Chehade on her campaign payroll. He is paid a very high salary for part-time work as her “Director of Foreign Policy and Research.”
Newman, a freshman, seeks a second term with major legal, ethical and political questions hanging over her:
·Did she violate any House rules or federal laws in making the job offer to Chehade – if, as Chehade claims – and Newman denies – it was a deal to induce him not to run for Congress. The often slow-moving House ethics committee may not wind up its investigation and issue its findings before the June 28 Illinois primary.
·Questions loom as to why, on July 1, Chehade started high paid employment on the Newman campaign. Chehade refused to cooperate with the OCE’s investigation, “citing,” the OCE said, “concerns over violating the nondisclosure agreement signed as a part of the lawsuit’s eventual settlement.”
Chehade, a Palestinian-American academic, specializes in Palestinian issues. The district has a large Palestinian population.
The OCE report included an e-mail exchange between Chehade and Newman. At 1:57 a.m on Oct. 27, 2018, Chehade sent his employment proposal to Newman, where he states he agreed not to run for Congress and “in exchange,” Newman will hire Chehade, as her chief foreign policy adviser to focus on Palestinian-Israeli issues. He made the highly unusual demand in his e-mail for him to never have to meet with any representative from the Israeli government.
Newman, replying at 12:48 p.m. that same day, said “good discussion,” and in a Nov. 2, 2018 e-mail said “most of it looks good.” Newman, who gave a deposition to the OCE, said she saved her negative reaction to the deal for a phone call. “I do remember using expletives in the conversation,” she told the OCE.
On May 26, 2021, a conservative watchdog group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics. Newman spokesman Pat Mullane said in a statement a “right-wing organization filed a politically-motivated complaint” with the OCE “regarding a dismissed lawsuit.”