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Ocasio-Cortez likely violated ethics rules, agency says

By Sarah May
|
March 3, 2023

In a significant piece of bad news for Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), the House Ethics Committee revealed Thursday that a review of the congresswoman's attendance at the 2021 Met Gala and her alleged acceptance of impermissible gifts would be extended, as NBC News reports.

The move was announced in a statement from Republican Committee Chairman Michael Guest (MS-03) and ranking Democrat Rep. Susan Wild (PA-07), who noted that the aforementioned decision was made back in December.

Gala controversy persists

The issues under review by the House panel stem from AOC's appearance at the celebrity-packed event nearly two years ago when she grabbed headlines for wearing a dramatic white ball gown with red lettering on the back that proclaimed, “Tax the Rich.”

It subsequently came to light that Ocasio-Cortez received “a couture dress, handbag, shoes, and jewelry” as well as “hair, makeup, transportation, and ready-room services” in connection with the event.

The lawmaker's now-fiancé Riley Roberts was provided with a bow tie and a pair of shoes for the swanky party, as NBC News noted.

As a result of the above, the panel determined that violations of House rules, standards and federal law may have occurred, adding that there was “substantial reason to believe” that AOC took impermissible gifts and announced that the probe would be extended.

House prohibitions cited

The House panel's probe centers on whether AOC's conduct ran afoul of, among other things, the lower chamber's rules that ban legislators from accepting things including “a gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value.”

The report produced the by Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) did note that AOC “appears to have now paid for the rental value of the attire she wore” to the glitzy gala and also “for the goods and services she and her partner received,” it also noted that those sums were not remitted until after she was contacted by the ethics office with concerns.

In the panel's estimation, “it appears that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez may not have paid for several thousands of dollars' worth of goods and services provided to her,” a proposition seemingly supported by the trail of disgruntled, unpaid service providers left in the congresswoman's wake once the event concluded.

Among those whose invoices went ignored for months included AOC's hairstylist for the event, the agency that provided a makeup artist for the congresswoman, and a company responsible for arranging the gown, shoes, handbag and other items she and her partner wore.

Explanation offered

According to interviews with investigators working for the House panel, Ocasio-Cortez put the blame for unpaid invoices squarely at the feet of a campaign staffer who is no longer in her employ, according to Business Insider.

The liberal firebrand claimed that she had only seen documentation about unpaid amounts the day before she met with those probing the situation on behalf of the ethics office.

“And I just never, ever, ever would have allowed that to happen knowing what I've learned. But I wasn't privy to the invoices, wasn't privy to the ones that had been sent,” AOC asserted, suggesting that the staffer should have taken care of the bills on her behalf.

The panel's report stated that the staff member in question said regarding the invoices, “they fell off my radar” and added, “I think the delay there for me was I didn't have access to [AOC's] personal credit card at that moment.”

AOC predicts dismissal

As NBC News noted, the congresswoman's office released a statement on Thursday, offered a defense of her actions, and predicted an eventual dismissal of the matter by the House panel.

“Though no ethics violation has been found, the Office of Congressional Ethics did identify that there were delays in paying vendors for costs associated with the congresswoman's attendance at the Met Gala,” the statement began.

The lawmaker's office continued, “However, while regrettable, these delayed payments definitively do not rise to the level of a violation of House Rules. Even after OCE's exhaustive review of the congresswoman's personal communications, there is no record of the congresswoman refusing to pay for these expenses.”

The Ethics Committee emphasized this week that the extension of the review – one that stands apart from the ethics office probe – “does not indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee,” Whether AOC finds herself in further hot water over the controversy, however, only time will tell.