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Remember Nancy Pelosi’s comments as the Democrats took back the House in 2006? She said,

‘”The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C., and the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history.”

The emphasis needs to be placed on the word “intend”. At the time, the ability of the Democratic party to keep that promise was shown to be questionable by their handling of their own in the high profile cases of men like William Jefferson, Alcee Hastings and John Murtha.

There may be another stain to the Democrat’s reputation in yesterday’s allegations Tennessee’s 5th District Representative, Jim Cooper, is under investigation by the FBI. For the moment, the matter is in “He said, she said” mode. The allegations of an FBI investigation have been made, Rep. Cooper’s office has denied any knowledge of an investigation and an FBI spokesman said, “The FBI does not comment on statements or accusations made by others concerning its investigative activity.” What we do know is this.

The charges came up in the course of Cooper’s investigation into the practices of a Texas electric co-op. The Tennessean’s Bill Theobald reports,

Thursday’s hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee focused on salaries paid to leaders of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Inc. in Texas and to spending by the cooperative.

Cooper used the Texas case as a stepping-off point for his longstanding contention that some cooperatives are mismanaged and that they fail to return excess revenue to their members.

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative is a member of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). NRECA’s CEO, Glenn English, was testifying before the committee and made his allegation during his testimony as Cooper sought to expand his probe from Pedernales in particular to coops in general. MSNBC reports English charged:

The reference that he made was with regard to a private Web site and gave even a Web site that provides access to members’ 401ks and also their retirement benefits. NRECA’s counsel has advised me that Mr. Cooper is currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his unauthorized access and downloading of information from NRECA’s password-protected Web site, and that is in violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Mr. English’s allegation came after Rep. Cooper displayed a report and asked English to comment on the information it contained. Some of that information came from the NRECA’s site. Cooper also published information from the site in an article in the Harvard Legislative Review and sourced the password protected site in a footnote. WSMV-Channel 4’s Cara Kumari has excellent video, here.

At issue will be Cooper’s right to access the material in question. Cooper admitted in the committee meeting that he viewed the site and obtained information from it. He did so using someone else’s password and username. Cooper claims a person authorized to access the site provided him with his login codes after NRECA denied Cooper’s request for access to confidential NRECA material. Cooper claims the NRECA material should be public, in his opinion, and maintains he did no wrong in accessing the private site, downloading and making the NRECA’s private material public. Channel 4’s Kumari notes the station asked an attorney whether Cooper’s behavior is illegal and was told the law was constantly changing in this area. What Cooper did may or may not be a violation of the law.

Which brings us back to the question of Democrats and integrity, honesty and ethics. It is not required that one commit a crime to demonstrate a lack of character. If there are criminal charges filed in this case, it simply makes it worse than it already is. But Cooper’s behavior fails all three tests even if he doesn’t face criminal charges.

His admission to personally using material he knew he was denied access to may not be the evidence of a crime it appears to be. But neither is it evidence of integrity. Claiming the use of someone else’s access codes is the same as having authorization to access the material himself may not be the laughable attempt at CYA it looks like, but that doesn’t make it ethical. Justifying his actions by applying an issue which impacts government to a private entity may not be an ignorant application of the question of Open Records, but it cannot be classified as honest.

Regardless of how the criminal aspect of the matter plays out, Jim Cooper’s arrogance has revealed he believes his opinions are a better gauge of conduct than the law or common sense, that he is unwilling to be bound by respect for the rights of others if he can score political points by behaving otherwise and, that one of his prime guiding principles is that the end justifies the means.

Those characteristics are horrible in an elected representative at any level of government! They do, however, work well for defense attorneys. I wish Rep. Cooper the best of luck in finding one that well qualified to represent him in the event he goes to trial.

Blue Collar Muse