Rep. Marie Newman keeps on political payroll man who is key witness in House ethics panel probe

Two ethics watchdog groups — FACT, the conservative Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust — and the left-leaning CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — agree the payments raise ethics questions.

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Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., in a Nov. 12, 2020 photo at her freshman orientation.

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., is keeping on her campaign payroll — at an unusually high salary for part-time work — the man who is the key witness against her in a pending House Ethics Committee investigation.

Two congressional ethics watchdog groups — FACT, the conservative Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust — and the left-leaningCREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — agree that continuing payments to Iymen Hamman Chehade while the House panel is conducting its probe raises ethical questions.

Chehade is also a congressional candidate in the June Democratic primary, running from a newly created district with no incumbent. Newman is locked in a primary battle with Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.

On Thursday, FACT sent a letter to the House ethics panel and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, saying there are now new issues for the Ethics Committee to consider.

“Newman used her congressional campaign to begin paying a witness in the case and has continued to pay him $54,000 through 2021. When a Member begins paying someone who is a witness in an ethics investigation, it interferes with the case. The witness now has a conflict of interest and a motivation to refuse to participate in the investigation,” the letter said.

FACT filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Feb. 3, alleging Chehade’s job with the Newman campaign was likely connected to the settlement of a court case and “may not be for a legitimate public service.”

FACT alleges that Newman benefited from the sealed court settlement because it “prevented” Chehade from testifying in the underlying ethics case the House panel is investigating.

A major argument of Newman’s team in past weeks has been that the case against her is really political because it is being pushed by FACT, which focuses on ethics problems of Democrats.

However, that does not get to the substance of the questions regarding Newman and Chehade, that is the circumstances surrounding his well-paid part-time employment on the campaign and what it would take to void the non-disclosure agreement.

A Newman spokesman said in a statement Thursday,“It should come as no surprise that the right wing organization behind this attack is pushing falsehoods once again. This group, founded by a former Trump official with seed funding from the Koch brothers, continues to try to smear Democratic candidates across the country. Rep. Newman has cooperated completely throughout this process at all times. These charges remain as meritless as they were when this partisan hit team started pushing them almost a year ago.”

However, Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for CREW, with a focus on Republican ethical lapses, told the Sun-Times, given the ethics investigation Newman is facing, having Chehade “on the payroll in what appears to be such a disproportionately high salary raises serious ethics questions.

“…This continues to make us wonder what is at the heart of this financial relationship.”

Between July 1 and Dec. 31, Chehade, a Palestinian American who teaches college courses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was paid $54,000 from Newman’s House campaign fund, making him one of her highest paid political workers.

The Sun-Times disclosed last December that Chehade was given the title of “Director of Foreign Policy and Research” in Newman’s campaign two days after a lawsuit he filed against her was settled.

Newman was elected in 2020 to represent the 3rd Congressional District, anchored on the Southwest Side and southwest suburbs. It is home to the most Palestinian Americans in Illinois.

The original issue in Newman’s ethics probe stems from a contract she signed with him in December 2018 promising him a well-paid job in her congressional office if she won the seat. Chehade asserted in his lawsuit the job deal was an inducement for him not to run against her in the 2020 primary.

Newman never gave Chehade a job. Chehade sued her for breach of contract on Jan. 19, 2021, with the contract made public as part of the court record.

On May 26, FACT filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics alleging an “apparent violation of federal law and ethics rules.” On June 17, OCE notified Newman it was reviewing the allegations.

The suit was settled in U.S. District Court in Chicago on June 29 ending the litigation with a sealed settlement. Chehade’s first payment from Newman’s campaign came two days later.

Newman was deposed in the OCE case on Sept. 2 and according to the transcript, made public by the House ethics committee, she did not volunteer that Chehade was currently on her political payroll. Then, again, neither was she asked.

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