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House Ethics appears to be investigating John Lewis' top aide

WASHINGTON -- The House Ethics Committee on Monday launched an inquiry into a complaint filed against a congressional staffer who appears to be U.S. Rep. John Lewis' longtime top aide.

The panel's top Republican and Democratic members said they agreed to investigate a complaint filed against Michael Collins, a House aide, on May 11. That's the name of Lewis', D-Atlanta, longtime chief of staff, and a search through LegiStorm's database of House staffers indicated he was the only Michael Collins employed by the House last month.

It is unclear what specifically the committee is investigating, and the panel's spokesman declined to comment.

The lawmakers did not disclose whether the inquiry is connected to a complaint the conservative watchdog group the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust filed against Collins in January. Their request to the independent Office of Congressional Ethics alleged that Collins broke ethics rules that bar senior staffers from serving on campaign organizations as officers and making more than the allowed amount for outside work. A Lewis spokeswoman said at the time that lawyers had reviewed the matter “and we were assured there was no violation of ethics rules.”

House Ethics investigators on Monday said they were undertaking the inquiry at the recommendation of the Office of Congressional Ethics. The committee also announced it was looking into a pair of complaints filed against U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of the House, and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, who leads House Democrats' election arm, that were filed on the same day. It is unclear whether the three complaints are related.

The committee said in its announcement that the inquiry in and of itself should not be viewed as an acknowledgement of ethical wrongdoing on Collins' part. A Lewis spokeswoman emphasized that point in an emailed statement.

"Mr. Collins would like reporters to refer to the committee’s release which states 'the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension…does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred,'" she said.

"Mr. Collins respects the process of ethics review and is cooperating with the committee," the spokeswoman added.

The ethics panel said it would announce its course of action on or before August 9.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.