Saturday, January 14, 2006

Ohio congressman could be second casualty in Abramoff scandal
Ney may be forced from committee chair
Ohio congressman could be second casualty in Abramoff scandal

From Mark Preston and Ed Henry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert is making moves to push fellow Republican Rep. Bob Ney from his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee, Republican sources said Friday.

Hastert, who voiced his support for Ney just days ago, is under pressure from his own caucus to take a stand against ethical misconduct, the sources said.

Ney is linked in documents to the investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax-evasion charges stemming from an influence-peddling scheme. (Full story)

The Ohio congressman could be ousted from his post as early as next week, the sources said.

"There have been ongoing discussions between Speaker Hastert and Representative Ney about his role as chairman," said Ron Bojean, a spokesman for Hastert, R-Illinois.

Ney was in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Friday, chairing a congressional hearing on reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina. He could not be reached for an interview, and his office had no comment.

A source close to Ney, however, said that the congressman has been in discussions with Hastert and is willing to step down from his post if it best serves his House GOP colleagues.
Ney could be second casualty

If Ney steps down, he will become the second high-profile Republican to give up his post amid the Abramoff affair. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a longtime associate of Abramoff, announced Sunday he would not seek to reclaim the leadership position he was forced to abandon in September. (Full story)

That decision followed the congressman's indictment in Texas on money-laundering and conspiracy charges. A judge dismissed the conspiracy charge in December. DeLay has pleaded not guilty.

DeLay's announcement Sunday followed a move by his Republican colleagues, who began pushing for a new leadership election that would have forced DeLay from his post.

According to court papers from the Abramoff case, the lobbyist and his business partner, Michael Scanlon, gave an unidentified member of Congress gifts in exchange for the lawmaker helping their clients. Included among the favors were agreements to support specific bills and place statements in the Congressional Record.

In pleading guilty earlier this month, Abramoff agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging bribery investigation.

Government sources have told CNN that the unidentified member of Congress is Ney, who has acknowledged being subpoenaed in connection with the investigation. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation say that as many as six people -- including Ney, another member of Congress and current and former staff members -- could face charges. The sources would not identify the other member of Congress. (Full story)
Laws brewing in Senate

In another sign that congressmen are scrambling to formulate plans to curb lobbyist influence, Senate Democrats and Republicans are thinking about taking measures to ban gifts, meals and private travel, according to working drafts of the proposals.

Among other initiatives, the drafts indicate senators are considering: eliminating floor privileges for lobbyists who are former legislators; increasing public disclosure requirements for lobbyist activities; and imposing strict rules on lawmakers and staffers considering employment in the private sector.

A Republican proposal adds that legislators' spouses and relatives would be prohibited from lobbying, while Democrats would like a 24-hour window to review legislation before Congress acts.

"Next week, House and Senate Democrats will unveil an aggressive series of proposals designed to highlight their commitment to reforming Republican-run Washington so that the abuses we have seen over the past number of years can never happen again," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. "We will put the American people's interests first and bring honesty and integrity back to government."

A senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, confirmed the working components of the GOP proposal.

Details of the plans emerged after Speaker Hastert indicated his interest in banning privately funded travel as a means of lobbyist reform.

Reform, however, could prove difficult as relations between the two parties are strained.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced on Thursday the formation of a task force to "address the Republican culture of corruption" in Congress.

Republicans responded by noting that Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, was "implicated in an international bribery scheme" this week by a former aide.

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