Canton Repository

January 14, 2006

House GOP pushes Ney to quit post

By Paul M. Krawzak
and Paul E. Kostyu
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON Rep. Bob Ney is being pressured to step down as chairman of the House Administration Committee as Republican lawmakers seek to limit damage from a growing bribery and corruption scandal in which the Heath Republican is implicated.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who selected Ney for the chairmanship in 2001, has been discussing since earlier this week a possible exit strategy with the six-term lawmaker.

Late Friday, The Associated Press quoted Ney as saying he was considering stepping down from the position temporarily. In the past two days, Ney has been in New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss., chairing congressional hearings on housing options for hurricane survivors.

A Republican lobbyist who is close to Ney, but did not want to be identified, said he believes Ney will give up the chairmanship if he decides it is for the good of the party.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, Republican leaders said they are researching the procedure for replacing a candidate even though they continue to back Ney’s bid for re-election in November.

Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett and others have talked about election law “to take into consideration every possible scenario,” said Jason Mauk, the state party’s political director. “It is fair to say we have looked at the law as it applies to every possibility in terms of filing deadlines, replacing a candidate prior to a primary and after a primary.”

If Ney does not voluntarily give up the chairmanship, Hastert could ask the 231-member Republican majority in the House to remove him when they meet Feb. 2 to choose a new majority leader to replace Texas Rep. Tom DeLay.

“There have been ongoing discussions between Speaker Hastert and Rep. Ney about his role as chairman of the House Administration Committee,” Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said Friday.

Ney has not been charged with a crime and insists he has not done anything illegal or wrong.

But based on the significant role that Ney, according to court documents, played in a corruption scheme, some observers expect him to be the first lawmaker indicted in the Justice Department probe.

A source close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of not being identified, believes Ney could be charged before the end of the month.

In a plea agreement with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff that was released last week, Ney is the unnamed “Representative No. 1” who is alleged to have provided legislative favors for Abramoff and his clients in return for a 2002 golf trip to Scotland, numerous tickets to concerts and sporting events, free meals and other benefits.

Both Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, who also pleaded guilty in the scandal, are cooperating with prosecutors. The Justice Department is said to be targeting a dozen or more lawmakers and congressional staff.

GOP leaders also are worried about how it would look for Ney to be overseeing ambitious lobbying reform legislation that congressional leaders plan to introduce when the House returns Jan. 31.

Typically, Ney’s committee would have jurisdiction over the proposals along with several other committees. However, one observer said GOP leaders are likely to give the House Rules Committee full jurisdiction over the legislation, thereby bypassing the Administration Committee.

If Ney were charged with a felony, as seems increasingly likely, House GOP rules would force him to relinquish the chairmanship. DeLay had to resign as majority leader when he was indicted on unrelated campaign finance charges in Texas.

Just last week, Bonjean expressed Hastert’s continuing confidence in Ney’s role as chairman. But according to sources close to GOP leaders, extensive allegations of Ney’s involvement in the scandal have caused a re-evaluation.

“The Ney situation has changed after the plea agreement,” said a House GOP leadership aide who spoke on condition of not being named. “There are people who have pled guilty who have conspired to bribe him. It does not mean he is guilty. However, given this information and the fact that part of our reform agenda will come before his committee, it’s a big problem in him leading it.”

Ohio Republican officials said they have no intention of asking Ney to give up his re-election bid, or running a candidate against him, at this time.

“The chairman has a lot of confidence in Rep. Ney and takes him at his word that an investigation will help clear his name,” Mauk said.

But he added that Bennett “sets a high ethical standard and we’ll enforce that expectation at every opportunity.”

Although there is growing pressure for Ney to step down, Hastert can’t dismiss him from the chairmanship without a vote from House Republicans.

“The speaker is moving behind the scenes for the greater good of the conference and handling it in the most dignified way possible,” a leadership aide said. “We hope we will see the results of those talks next week.”

Ney did not return a phone call seeking comment.