Trump-gate scandal ends with a whimper
The Jakarta Post
House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto and deputy speaker Fadli Zon emerged unscathed from charges of ethics violations in connection to their public appearance at US presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign event in New York early last month.
A number of lawmakers filed a report with the House ethics council against Setya and Fadli following a surprise appearance on US national television alongside the reality television star and real-estate magnate.
Following a closed-door session on Monday, the ethics council concluded that the two legislators had committed a minor offense, despite a heated debate among council members on whether they should be given a more severe punishment.
Setya expressed his gratitude to the council the following day.
'We respect the work that the council has conducted. I thank them for staying professional throughout [the entire process]. I am proud of them,' Setya said on the sidelines of Golkar Party's 51st anniversary celebrations in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, on Tuesday.
Setya, a Golkar politician, claimed to have provided a comprehensive and detailed explanation regarding their New York sojourn, including a chronology of events and the nature of his meeting with Trump.
'I had already met them [council] in person [to testify] and even delivered the [accompanying documents] directly,' he said.
Early in its probe, the council announced that they would reprimand the two lawmakers for attending the press event at Trump Tower, arguing that it was inappropriate for Indonesian public officials to appear in such circumstances.
At the time, Setya and his entourage were considered to have made a statement endorsing Trump's candidacy. 'Yes, highly,' House speaker Setya said during a press event on Sept. 3, in reply to Trump's question on whether the Indonesian people liked him.
The ethics council also determined that a meeting that took place prior to Setya and Fadli's public appearance constituted a breach of the House's ethics code. During that meeting, the troupe led by Setya and Fadli reportedly talked about Trump's investments in Indonesia.
The council's decision came about despite the utter disregard of the House leaders toward the council's authority, demonstrated by their lack of cooperation and repeated absence when summoned.
Both Setya and Fadli were absent when the council announced their ruling.
council deputy chairman Junimart Girsang of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said that both House leaders had failed to respond three times to the council, a move he said should constitute an ethics breach of its own.
'For me, their absence is another violation of ethics,' he said on Monday, adding that he had already brought the point up during the internal meeting.
Setya and Fadli had twice been summoned before Monday's ruling, once on Sept. 28 and again on Oct. 12. Both lawmakers dodged the first summons with the excuse that they had been invited by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to observe the annual haj pilgrimage.
They did not respond to the second summons either. On the third attempt on Monday, Fadli could not make it because he was attending an international parliamentary forum in Geneva, Switzerland, while Setya said he had other commitments.
Junimart said he did not agree with the council's final decision, arguing that both Setya and Fadli had committed a medium-level offense that should see them stripped of their leadership positions. 'From the data I collected, theirs could be deemed a medium offense,' he said.
Meanwhile, PDI-P politician Adian Napitupulu, one of the lawmakers who filed the ethics violation report, condemned the ruling.
'In the future, no one will be blamed for making a mockery out of the House,' he said.
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