In a report released Wednesday, the House Ethics Committee concluded that Rep. Thomas Garrett, who announced in May he would not run for re-election after reports surfaced that he and his wife used staff members to run errands and do chores for them, violated House ethics rules. But according to the committee, the Garretts were so slow in responding to the committee’s requests that it now no longer has any jurisdiction over the retired legislator and cannot require him to reimburse the U.S. Treasury.
Garrett, a Republican from Virginia, first raised eyebrows when Politico reported in May that he and his office were in “turmoil,” prompting him to host a rambling press conference in which he both admitted his doubts about wanting to do the job and asserted he would again run for office. Soon after, Politico reported that Garrett and his wife, Flanna, had made staffers shop for groceries, fetch clothes, and even pick up dog poop for them. A spokesman at the time denied the allegations, but Garrett would soon announce that he planned to retire after all to deal with his alcoholism and focus on his family, while still denouncing the allegations.
In August, an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation concluded there was “substantial reason” to believe the allegations were true, and it referred its findings to the committee. The committee’s investigation went into greater detail. In the 47-page report, it found instances in which Garrett and his wife asked staffers to buy cigarettes, drive them to the airport (and, once, IKEA), have their car serviced, schedule medical appointments, help them move between apartments, and help his children apply to schools and obtain passports. “Committee staff’s investigation revealed numerous instances in Representative Garrett’s office of diverting staff time away from official matters toward tasks related to Representative Garrett’s and his family’s personal needs,” the report concluded. “At times, this resulted in a prioritization of Representative Garrett’s and his wife’s personal needs over those of his constituents.”
Worse, Garrett’s wife, who “regularly participated in office staffing decisions, including hiring, firing, and the awarding of employee bonuses,” berated staff for not prioritizing her demands, causing some to feel they had no option other than to comply. “This confusion was exacerbated by bullying behavior from Mrs. Garrett, who responded with insults and profanity when staff questioned or displeased her,” the report noted. A text from her provided as an example:
NONE of what I asked to be done with the phone was done. Not a f****** thing. I am going to sit down with some of your staff and tell them how f****** disrespectful and STUPIDLY shortsighted they are for completely disregarding every thing I asked them to do.
And, according to the findings, Garrett violated these ethics rules even after he attended a staff meeting with Ethics Committee staff—brought about because of staff confusion over what was and was not allowed—and was told about proper ethics rules related to official resources. During the investigation, he told the committee he incorrectly believed that he could ask staffers for personal favors if they were paid by his campaign.
Normally, Garrett would have to reimburse the federal government for the time his staffers spent on personal matters, but because Garrett “hindered the Committee’s investigation by delaying his document production to the Committee and producing incomplete records without giving an explanation for the missing documents,” the committee released its findings on his last day in office, meaning it no longer had jurisdiction over him and could not compel him or his wife to cooperate further or repay the federal government.