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US House Republicans vote to limit body that probes ethics violations

This file photo taken on March 19, 2014 shows the dome of the US Congress in Washington, DC.

Republican lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have voted to weaken an independent ethics office that investigates allegations of misconduct by legislators in the lower chamber of Congress.

Under the change, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent and nonpartisan entity, would come under the control of the House of Representatives Ethics Committee.

In place of the OCE, Republicans would create a new Office of Congressional Complaint Review that would report to the House Ethics Committee, which has been accused of ignoring credible allegations of wrongdoing by lawmakers.

Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia who crafted the OCE rules, announced on Monday that the House Republican Conference had approved the change.

The OCE was created under the leadership of Representative Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California and former House speaker.

Pelosi, who is currently the House minority leader, joined others who had worked to create the office in expressing outrage at the move and the secretive way it was orchestrated.

“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” Pelosi said in a statement on Monday. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

Ethics watchdog groups also denounced the Republicans’ move. “Poor way to begin draining the swamp,” Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, said on Twitter.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, also opposed the move to limit OCE's powers during the House Republican Conference on Monday night.

The OCE was created after a series of criminal violations starting in 2008, including bribery allegations against Representatives Duke Cunningham, Republican of California, Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio and William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, as well as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

All four were ultimately convicted and served time in jail.

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