WASHINGTON — Rep. Joe Wilson acknowledged Tuesday that he's under investigation by the House ethics committee for his use of travel funds while on at least one congressional trip to Afghanistan.
Wilson, a South Carolina Republican in a tough re-election fight with Democrat Rob Miller, said the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — the official name of the ethics panel — is looking into his purchase of six goblets for $12 while in Afghanistan in August 2009.
"As a member of the House Armed Services Committee visiting troops in Afghanistan, Wilson was provided $13 a day for travel expenses," said Pepper Pennington, his congressional spokeswoman.
"Wilson purchased six small tokens of his appreciation — under $2 each — for Afghanistan (war) veterans and their families," Pennington said.
Wilson was campaigning in his 2nd Congressional District and declined direct comment.
Wilson is among five members of the House being probed by the House ethics committee for their use of travel funds, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"We are clearly expecting this issue to be resolved favorably and swiftly over these tokens of appreciation for veterans priced under $2," Pennington said.
Aides to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the ethics panel, didn't respond to interview requests.
A House rule prohibits ethics investigations from being made public in the last three months before an election.
The other four lawmakers under investigation are Democratic Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Alcee Hastings of Florida and Solomon Ortiz of Texas; and Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the Journal reported.
Butterfield is a member of the ethics panel.
The ethics committee was also probing use of travel funds by Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, until he retired in May after admitting to having had an extramarital affair with a female aide, according to the Journal.
Wilson has taken 10 congressional trips to Afghanistan since the United States invaded it in October 2001 after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington.
Wilson was a military lawyer in the Army National Guard from 1975 to 2003.
Miller, a former Marine Corps captain who served in Iraq, has called Wilson's trips to Afghanistan junkets, saying visits by lawmakers drain critical resources from the U.S. war mission there because of the heightened security they require.
Wilson's aides declined to say Tuesday whether the House ethics probe of him was limited to his August 2009 trip, and to his $12 total purchase of six goblets.
Pennington said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hadn't provided guidelines to lawmakers on how to spend or return unused per diem expense funds until May of this year, after the Journal published an earlier article on the problem.
Lawmakers' meals and other travel expenses are often paid for by their hosts, leaving them with unused funds on foreign trips.
The amount provided per day varies greatly depending on the country visited, with the per diem ranging as high as $250 in Japan.
Lawmakers visiting Afghanistan get $25 a day, the Journal said, but Wilson said he received only $13 per day in per diem funds for his August 2009 trip.
McClatchy Newspapers 2010