Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson presented a misleading description of ethics committee rule changes that Republicans recently pushed through the House of Representatives. Wilson wrongly claimed that "In the past, charges brought before the [ethics] committee could remain unresolved if the committee was deadlocked" and displayed an erroneous graphic reading: "Old Rule: Charges remain unresolved if committee is deadlocked." In fact, under the previous rule, a deadlock on the 10-member panel, which is divided evenly between the two parties, meant that an investigation was automatically initiated; the new rule requires a majority vote on the committee for an inquiry to take place.
From the April 20 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume:
WILSON: In the past, charges brought before the committee could remain unresolved if the committee was deadlocked. The big fight is over a new rule that requires a majority vote in the evenly divided committee before an investigation can proceed. The new rule also requires that any pending complaint be dismissed if the committee is deadlocked for 45 days.
Here is the graphic displayed during Wilson's report:
Contrary to Wilson's suggestion that under the old rule, a deadlocked committee would result in ethics charges remaining "unresolved," The Washington Post reported on March 11 that before Republicans changed the rule in January, "a tie meant that an inquiry was automatically triggered, now a majority must approve it." The New York Times elaborated on the details of the rule change when it was enacted in January:
Under the system instituted in 1997, if no action is taken on a complaint within 45 days, a preliminary investigation is started. The new approach would require an affirmative vote by the panel to begin an investigation, meaning at least one committee member belonging to the same party as the lawmaker at the center of the complaint would have to join in backing an inquiry or the complaint would die.
"If these changes had been in place in the last Congress, no ethics complaints would have seen the light of day," said Representative Louise M. Slaughter of New York, senior Democrat on the Rules Committee.