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Ethics review finds probable cause that Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas misused campaign funds

The former Fort Bend County sheriff is a staunch Donald Trump supporter who attended this year’s State of the Union address wearing a t-shirt with Trump's mug shot.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — The independent office that reviews allegations against House members found probable cause that Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas converted campaign funds to personal use, triggering an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, a new disclosure revealed Friday.

The recommendation and the full report from the Office of Congressional Ethics were both released Friday, as required under the law. The leaders of the House Ethics Committee emphasized that the disclosure does not itself mean that a violation has occurred and stressed that the investigation into Nehls is ongoing. Nehls' lawyer told the committee the lawmaker did not profit from the arrangement that had raised red flags with the ethics office.

Nehls, a second-term Republican lawmaker, was a county sheriff for eight years before serving in the House. He’s a staunch Donald Trump supporter who attended this year’s State of the Union address wearing a T-shirt decorated with Trump’s mugshot.

The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the committee investigation in December by a vote of 6-0.

The office sought to determine whether Nehls' campaign paid a company registered to the congressman for reasons other than legitimate campaign purposes.

The ethics office said Nehls’ campaign committee made more than $25,000 in rental payments since late 2019 to an entity known as Liberty 1776, LLC, and that a review of state records shows that he was the registered agent for the company.

The report notes that campaigns cannot spend money for “personal use,” and that prohibition includes the purchase or lease of services from the member himself. The office said Nehls declined to cooperate with its investigation and due to that lack of cooperation, no witnesses could confirm that the payments made to Liberty 1776 were for legitimate campaign purposes.

The report also stated that Nehls did not disclose any income derived from Liberty 1776 on his financial disclosure forms required for members and candidates.

An attorney representing Nehls disputed the lack of cooperation with the Office of Congressional Ethics. Rather, counsel objected to ambiguously worded requests for information. And the Office of Congressional Ethics never responded to clarify the review's scope, he said.

Further, the attorney, Jared Najvar, said that Nehls and several other candidates agreed they should pursue a particular property in Richmond, Texas, as a location for a campaign headquarters and associated activities. He said there was an oral contract in which Liberty 1776 would pay rent and make certain improvements to the property. He said Liberty 1776 took in about $52,872 and expended that amount on the property.

“The various rent payments by Nehls for Congress to Liberty 1776 from 2019 through 2022 were, therefore, legitimate rent payments for campaign office use,” Najvar wrote to the Ethics Committee in a January letter.

The attorney also said Nehls' financial disclosure form would be amended to include his affiliation with Liberty 1776 and that failure to include it was an oversight brought to the congressman's attention by the OCE's referral.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is often the first to review alleged violations of the law or House rules, but it's the 10 lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee that make a final determination of whether violations occurred. Nehls has said he will cooperate with the House panel's investigation.

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