Guilty Members of the House Who Refused to Resign

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was sentenced on three felony charges of lying to the FBI over a 2016 foreign campaign donation. However, he is not required to retire under House regulations.

If Fortenberry, who was elected to Congress in 2004, stays in office while fighting his convictions, he won’t be the first. A quarter-century of guilty House members from both sides tried to hold out, but finally gave in to pressure from their party leadership.

Reps. Hunter, Grimm, and Radel

On Dec. 3, 2019, California Republican Rep. Duncan D. Hunter pled guilty to misusing campaign money, namely $1,302 in expenses for computer games and $600 for the flight of a family rabbit.

Federal prosecutors also charged Hunter with using campaign funds for extramarital encounters with five women, three corporate lobbyists, a congressional assistant, and an employee.

Hunter announced on Dec. 6 he would leave his conservative San Diego House seat after the holidays. Hunter conserved almost $10,000 in monthly income by delaying until January to leave.

New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm pled guilty to one count of criminal tax evasion on Dec. 23, 2014. Grimm admitted to underreporting the profits of Healthalicious, a small health food joint in Manhattan, by nearly $900,000.

To hide his income, Grimm admits to filing fake tax forms.

Grimm confessed to making the mistakes, but declined to retire. After hearing Ohio Republican House Speaker John Boehner was pressuring him to resign, Grimm altered his tune. Grimm addressed this point and retired from the House on Jan. 5, 2015.

On Nov. 20, 2013, first-term Florida Republican Rep. Trey Radel pled guilty to a felony count of cocaine possession and received a year of probation.

Radel stayed in Congress. He then took a self-imposed sabbatical to seek addiction treatment, claiming he would donate his income to charity.

The House Republican leadership team was not pleased to see Radel stay on. Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Republican Party called for Radel to go. Radel resigned on Jan. 27, 2014.

Reps. Mel Reynolds, Bob Ney, and William Jefferson

On Nov. 13, 2009, the Louisiana Democrat Rep. Jefferson was found guilty of 11 charges of bribery. The longstanding New Orleans politician, a Harvard Law School graduate, fought hard to save his job.

In August 2005, the FBI confiscated $90,000 in cash from Jefferson’s home freezer, which the tabloids dubbed “cold hard cash.” Jefferson was re-elected in 2006 in a Democratic district. Contrary to expectations, Jefferson lost to Republican Joseph Cao in 2008.

On Oct. 13, 2006, Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney pled guilty to conspiring and making false statements in connection with notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney admitted to taking Abramoff’s money in return for legislative favors.

However, Ney clung to power as long as he could. Ney’s lawyer stated he will retire before his sentence on Jan. 19, 2007, but not immediately.

House Republicans wanted the federal criminal out. Democrats used his resistance to capture the House majority in 2006. Several other Republican politicians had recently been accused of wrongdoing, and Ney was a reminder this was not the first time.

Then-House Majority Leader Boehner moved to oust his Ohio colleague.

Rep. Mel Reynolds was hit with 12 charges of sexual abuse, obstructing justice, and soliciting child pornography in Cook County Circuit Court on Aug. 22, 1995. In the end, Reynolds resigned.

Within a week, the House Democratic leadership openly demanded his resignation.

Reynolds said on Sept. 2 he would step down on Oct. 1. Reynolds made the revelation on CNN’s Larry King Live with Marisol. Reynolds left Congress soon after, but by staying until the end of the month, he secured a new payment from the House.

Time and time again, political figures return to office after being found guilty of charges. At this point, the next sensible course of action would be to alter the House rules.