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AOC: Is She In Serious Legal Trouble?

AOC screenshot from 2020 Democratic National Convention in 2020.
AOC screenshot from 2020 Democratic National Convention in 2020.

AOC: In Trouble or Not? It was a strange story earlier this month: it was announced that Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), one of the more high-profile members of Congress, was the subject of a Congressional ethics probe. 

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“The Acting Chairwoman and Acting Ranking Member of the Committee on Ethics have jointly decided to extend the matter regarding Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which was transmitted to the Committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on June 23, 2022,” the Committee said in a statement. “The Committee will announce its course of action in this matter following its organizational meeting and adoption of Committee Rules in the 118th Congress.”

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, per ABC News, is “fully participating” in the probe.

She added in a statement that she “has always taken ethics incredibly seriously, refusing any donations from lobbyists, corporations, or other special interests. We are confident that this matter will be dismissed.”

A House Ethics Committee investigation is not the same thing as a criminal investigation, and there is no indication that whatever is being investigated is a criminal matter

One thing that’s strange about this story is that the announcement was made two weeks ago, about a very prominent Congresswoman, and there hasn’t even been a hint about what exactly the probe is about. There have been no leaks or any real indications of exactly what it is that led to the investigation. This is strange, considering that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has a great many enemies in politics, both on the political right, and among non-Squad factions of the Democratic Party

ABC News suggested that it could be connected to the American Accountability Foundation’s call for an investigation into whether the Congresswoman known as AOC accepted an improper gift when she attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, known as the Met Gala, in 2021. 

The Washington Free Beacon speculated on the eight most likely explanations for the ethics probe. Some of the suggestions were more serious than others. 

Its ideas included the Met Gala attendance, as well as “shady finances,” “the time she pretended to get arrested in front of the Supreme Court,” illegal parking of her Tesla, siding against Hillary Clinton and endorsing Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primaries, “Dating well below her level of attractiveness,”  and “cavorting with” follow Squad members Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who the Free Beacon slammed as antisemites. And finally, the Free Beacon accused AOC of “manspreading.” 

Less tongue-in-cheek reporting, such as this Insider piece, has indicated that the Met Gala situation is the most likely reason for the ethics probe. There has, however, not been any confirmation that this is the case. 

At the event, where Ocasio-Cortez appeared wearing a white dress with “Tax the Rich” painted on the back, drawing a great deal of media attention. The American Accountability Foundation complaint was filed the following day. 

The question seems to be whether the Congresswoman paid for the ticket herself or had it paid for by a different entity. 

“If a lobbying entity paid for the ticket, then it would be a violation of the gift rule, but I have no reason to believe it was provided by any lobbying entity,” Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, told Insider. 

Ethics rules in the House allow members of the body to accept an  “unsolicited offer of free attendance” at an event, provided its “primary purpose” is fundraising. The Met Gala is a charity event that raises millions of dollars for charity. 

So if AOC was invited directly by the organizers of the Met Gala, she is likely in the clear. If she was invited by a company or other private entity, and they paid for her ticket or table, that would place her in murkier ethical waters. It has been far from rare in the past for elected officials to show up at the Met Gala. 

Of course, there is also the possibility that the House Ethics Committee probe has nothing to do with the Met Gala, and is connected to something previously not hinted at in media coverage. 

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Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.