Thursday, May 18, 2006


Gee, as the Church Lady would say.....How Convvvvvvvenient. They can't probe Delay because he resigned.

Ethics Panel Starts 3 Probes
Ney, Jefferson And Cunningham Cases End Hiatus

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006; Page A01

After 16 months of inactivity and partisan infighting, the House ethics committee launched investigations last night into bribery allegations against Reps. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and William Jefferson (D-La.) and a separate inquiry into the widening scandal surrounding former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.).

The committee said it would have ordered another investigation, into the overseas trips of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), had the once-powerful lawmaker not announced that he will resign from the House on June 9.

The inquiries by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is formally known, come after the Justice Department intensified corruption investigations of Ney and Jefferson, and after Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes and was sent to prison.

But as those and other scandals were unfolding, the ethics committee sat on the sidelines while Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for grinding the ethics process to a halt. Democrats said GOP leaders had changed the rules unfairly to thwart investigations that could have negative ramifications for the party. Republicans charged that the Democrats were dragging their feet on the panel's reorganization to bolster their accusations of a coverup.

That logjam was broken last month when Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), the committee's ranking Democrat, was forced to leave the panel amid accusations that he used his congressional position to funnel money to his own home-state foundations, possibly enriching himself.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named a fellow Californian and committee veteran, Howard L. Berman, to take the top slot. Berman quickly joined with the committee chairman, Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), to get the panel moving again.

Responding to last night's developments, Ney said in a statement: "For the last 15 months, all I have asked for is an opportunity to have the facts surrounding the Abramoff matter to be reviewed by the appropriate investigative bodies in order to have this matter addressed once and for all. Now that the Committee has been constituted, I am pleased that my request has been heard."

Robert P. Trout, an attorney for Jefferson, said in a statement, "This action is hardly surprising given recent media reports and editorial comment." He added that the congressman believes that "everyone should take a deep breath and allow the judicial process to work."

Trout also said that Jefferson has "never accepted payment from anyone for the performance of any act or duty for which he was elected."

The Cunningham inquiry could hold the most political significance, because it will look into activities that could snare lawmakers who so far have escaped official scrutiny. Cunningham confessed to accepting millions of dollars in bribes from two Southern California defense contractors, Mitchell J. Wade and Brent R. Wilkes.

The case took a new twist last month when Wade told prosecutors that Wilkes had an arrangement with a limousine company, which in turn had an arrangement with at least one escort service, one source said. Wade said limos would pick up Cunningham and a prostitute and bring them to suites that Wilkes maintained at the Watergate and Westin Grande hotels in Washington. Federal investigators are looking into whether other lawmakers also took part.

"There have been continuing reports regarding [Cunningham's] conduct, the conduct of his alleged co-conspirators, and others, that, if true, raise serious issues concerning violations of House Rules and standards," a joint statement from Hastings and Berman said. "Most recently, reports have suggested that federal officials are investigating whether Representative Cunningham and possibly other Members and staff were provided hotel rooms, limousines, and other services in exchange for performing official acts."

Hastings and Berman added that other investigations could be launched against other lawmakers or staff members.

The committee's announcements mark one more setback for Ney and Jefferson. Ney has been a primary target of the federal investigation into the activities of former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In four separate guilty pleas, Abramoff, former DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony C. Rudy, former DeLay press secretary Michael Scanlon and former Ney chief of staff Neil G. Volz all said Ney had used his position to grant favors to the Abramoff lobbying team in exchange for gifts, including a lavish golf trip to Scotland, the use of luxury boxes at sporting events, and concerts and meals.

An ethics investigative subcommittee, headed by Reps. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.) and Gene Green (D-Tex.), plans its own inquiry.

For Jefferson, the ethics inquiry is likely to be the least of his concerns. Last week, the congressman indicated his indictment was imminent when he told his New Orleans constituents he would not resign amid worsening bribery charges.

Last week, Kentucky businessman Vernon L. Jackson pleaded guilty to bribery, saying Jefferson began in 2000 to help him market his telecommunications firm, iGate Inc., to federal contractors and African countries. In 2001, Jefferson allegedly told Jackson that he would not continue these promotional efforts without payments to a company belonging to Jefferson's family.

Question Girl