Pelosi’s Insincere Call for Ethics Probe of Rep. Tony Cardenas

Rep. Tony Cardenas (left), and friends.

For California Congressman Tony Cardenas, what goes around may be coming around. A lawsuit filed on April 27 by an unnamed plaintiff in Los Angeles is accusing Cardenas, identified in the suit only as “John Doe,” of sexually molesting a teenaged girl back in 2007 when he was a member of the Los Angeles City Council. The suit is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages. Cardenas revealed himself as John Doe a week later. He and his attorney, Patricia Glaser, are denying all allegations and are claiming the suit is malicious.

Tony Cardenas, now 55, represents California’s 29th District, which covers the north-central part of the San Fernando Valley. Now in his third term in the House of Representatives, Cardenas already has made his presence felt. He holds leadership positions with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. And he also chairs the Hispanic Caucus’ political action committee, Bold PAC. Unfortunately, an event from more than a decade ago, far removed from Washington politics, may be his downfall.

According to the lawsuit, Cardenas was playing golf at the Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles in 2007 with a 16-year-old girl. During their game, he offered her a cup of ice water that “tasted distinctly different from both tap and filtered water.” The female teen proceeded to drink. Then, without warning, she “suddenly collapsed to the ground.” Cardenas drove her to a local hospital. On the way he allegedly sexually assaulted her. “During the ride, he reached inside her shirt and rubbed her breasts,” noted the Los Angeles Times. “He also reached down her shorts and fondled her vagina.” Cardenas had met the girl in 2005 and subsequently became a close friend of her family.

These are serious charges. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants an investigation. “I have spoken with Congressman Cardenas and he appropriately asked us to withhold judgment until there is a full investigation of the facts,” she stated on May 5. “I call upon the House Ethics Committee for a prompt investigation of this matter.” That may seem a reasonable response. But Pelosi, a consummate insider, knows fully well that such a probe is unlikely to go anywhere. The Ethics Committee has a long track record of feckless investigations that turn up little or nothing. The Ethics Committee is where complaints go to die.

It’s hard to see how the committee, which doesn’t even take very recent wrongdoing seriously, could go back 11 years to determine what happened on that golf course between future Rep. Cardenas and the alleged victim. And even if it could, the Ethics Committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over a member before or after they are in Congress. Pelosi risks nothing by putting on this contrived display of outrage.

Tom Anderson is director of NLPC’s Government Integrity Project.