“I welcome the news,” Schmidt said. “The report vindicates what I have been saying all along: I have worked cooperatively with the Committee to ensure that I pay these bills in an ethical way. I hope this will be the end of a sideshow created by my political opponent.”
Schmidt said members of the Ethics Committee voted unanimously “to release a public report finding that Rep. Schmidt did not knowingly violate any provision of the Code of of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct with respect to the receipt of gifts,” according to the Friday statement of the chairman Reps. Jo Bonner of Alabama and ranking member Linda T. Sanchez of California.
“I’m very pleased,” Schmidt said Saturday. “I’m not surprised with their findings. And it has always been my intention to do things the right way. And that is why I have been working through the Ethics Committee. So they have given me permission to set up a Legal Expense Trust. And that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
The fund is to pay bills involving a defamation lawsuit she filed last year in Clermont County Common Pleas Court against Krikorian.
While the Committee ruled Schmidt didn’t knowingly violate House ethics rules, it was, according to Krikorian, ruled that a Turkish-American group improperly paid about $500,000 in legal bills that Schmidt amassed in lawsuits against Krikorian, and ordered her to repay the lawyers herself.
“That’s the way he wants to spin it. Let’s get to the truth,” Schmidt said. “It’s really more of the form than substance. The attorneys that worked for me represented themselves as employees of TALDF (Turkish American Legal Defense Fund) on TALDF stationery. That is the people we thought we were dealing with. What we didn’t realize was that they were independent contractors that TALDF hired. I didn’t know any of this. All the documents that we saw said they were employees of TALDF.”
Schmidt was asked why the bills had not been paid.
“We knew we were going to pay our bills, but because I’m a member of Congress, and because I am suing David Krikorian, I had to make sure I handled the bills in a proper manner, so that I didn’t have an ethical violation,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said she sought legal answers to whether she could pay the bills out of campaign funds from the Ethics Committee.
“They (HEC) said, ‘why don’t you do a Legal Expense Trust? That would be the cleaner method to use,” Schmidt said. “This was two years ago. We said fine. So we created the Legal Expense Trust. And this Ethics Committee moves slower than molasses. They’ve had much staff turnover since then, and we never could get the final approval on the Legal Expense Trust. In the meantime, David Krikorian wants to make it out that I’m shirking my responsibilities on my legal bills.”
Schmidt said she never shirked her responsibility to pay the bills, she was waiting to get the ruling as to the most ethical way to pay them.
“The good news is that they got on it, and we are establishing the Trust. We’re moving forward,” Schmidt said. “They finally told us how to properly do the Trust.”
The trust also can be used to pay legal bills that resulted from a complaint Schmidt filed against the former opponent with the Ohio Elections Commission, which reported in 2009 that there was clear and convincing evidence the opponent had made false statements about her with malice.
If any damages are awarded to Schmidt as a result of the defamation case, the money must first be used for lawyer fees and expenses, and then to repay donors to the Jean Schmidt Legal Expense Trust. Any leftover money must be donated to charity. Schmidt said she will receive no direct or indirect financial benefit from the suit.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or firstname.lastname@example.org.