Illinois Democrat signed contract promising six-figure government job to potential primary opponent: watchdog

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The House Ethics Committee is looking into whether Rep. Marie Newman illegally promised a congressional job to a political opponent before her 2020 election – a claim the freshman congresswoman staunchly disputes. 

The House Ethics Committee on Monday disclosed a 13-page report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) recommending that the committee look into Newman, D-Ill. The report alleges that she potentially broke the federal law barring candidates from promising an “appointment” to a job in exchange for political support.  

Newman’s office accused the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a watchdog organization that almost exclusively investigates Democrats, of filing a “politically-motivated” complaint that spurred the investigation into the congresswoman. The group filed a complaint against Newman in May, spurring a monthslong investigation by the OCE, which referred Newman to the Ethics Committee. 

“The materials produced during the OCE’s review overwhelmingly demonstrate that the ethics complaint is completely meritless,” a spokesperson for the congresswoman added. 

Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., speaks to reporters in January 2018 during her first unsuccessful campaign for Congress. Newman allegedly later that year entered into a contract promising a job to a potential political opponent in exchange for that person not running against her. Newman was later elected to Congress in 2020. 
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

OCE alleged that after an unsuccessful 2018 congressional run, Newman and a man named Iyman Chehade signed a contract by which Newman would hire Chehade to her congressional office if she won in 2020, as long as he did not run against her. 

“At the start of her 2020 campaign, Rep. Newman made Mr. Chehade certain promises about future employment in her congressional office. Those promises were reduced to a contract signed by both parties,” the OCE report says. 

The promises included Chehade’s choice between two jobs in Newman’s future office and a bevy of benefits he would receive. It did not explicitly state Chehade agreed not to run for Congress. 

Newman eventually won her race. But she did not follow through on the contract. 

“In 2021, after Rep. Newman did not hire Mr. Chehade, he sued to enforce the contract, claiming that he decided not to run for the 2020 congressional seat in reliance of her promise to hire him as a foreign policy advisor and either District Director or Legislative Director in her congressional office,” the OCE report says. 

Newman told the OCE that the only reason she courted Chehade as a potential staffer was because of his expertise on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, an issue she said she did not have a firm grasp on. Newman’s attorney also says the pair later had a falling out over Chehade’s hardline anti-Israel policy positions, which led them to stop communicating in mid-2019. 

Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., attends congressional orientation in Washington in November 2020. She was sworn in January 2021. (Marisa Schultz/Fox News)

But, the OCE wrote, “evidence gathered during the OCE’s review strongly contradicts Rep. Newman’s testimony that she did not have any knowledge of Mr. Chehade’s intent to run for congressional office.”

This included a document sent from Chehade to Newman during their contract negotiations which said part of the deal was that Cheahade would not run for the Illinois 3rd Congressional District seat.

Newman told the OCE that she was “outraged and incensed” as well as “irate” about the email, sent in October 2018, and that she angrily called him about the email later in the day. But just a few days later Newman said she agreed with the broad strokes of the proposal and that she was merely worried about “phraseology.” 

The pair signed the contract in December 2018, and Chehade sued Newman in early 2020 after she refused to hire him for the position she promised. The lawsuit was eventually settled in a deal that included a nondisclosure agreement. But the legal action was what drew attention to the dispute and led to the FACT complaint. 

Newman, meanwhile, submitted a scathing response to the OCE report through an attorney. 

In this Monday, March 9, 2020, file photo, Democrat Marie Newman campaigns in Chicago. Newman, now a congresswoman, is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast File)

“OCE has prejudged the matter from the beginning. Despite the Congresswoman’s complete cooperation, the facts and law rebutting the allegation, and the OCE’s failure to obtain any other relevant evidence, OCE refers her anyway,” her lawyer Brian Svoboda wrote. “To hide the referral’s fatal defects, OCE completely ignores the exculpatory evidence the Congresswoman provided, withholds them from the findings, and consigns the legal defects to a footnote.”

Among the evidence Svoboda says the committee ignored is that besides that one proposal in an email, Chehade never made any public statement – or private statement in documents provided by Newman – referencing a potential congressional run. He also didn’t live in the same congressional district as Newman. 

Svoboda also notes the contract contains no language about Chehade running for Congress and that it includes a line saying it “supersedes” any other agreement the pair entered before. 

Further, the response to the OCE report reads, when “Newman signed the agreement with Iymen Chehade on December 26, 2018 — almost a month before she filed with the FEC, and almost four months before she announced she was running — she was not a ‘candidate’ under” federal law. 

The committee says Newman was openly planning a run for Congress in 2020 by fall 2018 – as evidenced by the agreement itself. 

But Newman’s lawyer says that is irrelevant because she had not yet official filed as a candidate. She also hadn’t raised or spent at least $5,000 on a campaign, and “one cannot become a ‘candidate’ under 18 U.S.C. §599 until crossing the $5,000 threshold.”

The House Ethics Committee said in a press release that it will not comment further on its investigation into Newman. But it said that “the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”

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