June 30, 2006
Key aides leaving Ney’s staff
By Toby Eckert and Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON - In another blow to Rep. Bob Ney, the beleaguered Ohio
congressman is losing three of his top aides as he fends off a
federal investigation into his ties with convicted lobbyist Jack
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury reportedly has subpoenaed Matt
Parker, the manager of Ney’s re-election campaign, who also was
Ney’s Ohio district director, for testimony in the Abramoff
Chief of Staff Will Heaton and Communications Director Brian Walsh
are planning to leave the Heath Republican’s office in coming
days, Walsh confirmed Thursday. Ney’s legislative director, Chris
Otillio, already has left.
Six convicted so far
The unusual number of departures comes while Ney is under
investigation by the Justice Department as part of a wide-ranging
probe into Abramoff’s activities. Six former lobbyists or
government officials have been convicted so far.
Ney insists he has done nothing wrong and was duped by Abramoff,
who funded a lavish golf trip to Scotland in 2002 that included
Ney, Heaton and several others.
Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, reported Thursday
that Parker was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in the
Abramoff investigation. The paper, quoting anonymous sources, said
more subpoenas of Ney staffers are expected.
The six-term lawmaker issued a statement Thursday insisting that
the departures were inevitable turnover among congressional staff
members who he said “work very long hours.”
He added, “Therefore any suggestion or implication that the office
of Ohio’s 18th Congressional District is operating at anything
less than full speed ahead is baseless and without merit.”
But the campaign of his Democratic congressional opponent, Dover
Law Director Zack Space, charged that the departures represented
Ney’s top aides’ “abandoning ship” with a “corruption
investigation — closing in,” Space’s campaign manager Joe Shafer
said in a statement.
Political observers said the staff shake-up was another sign of
Ney’s legal and political troubles.
“Sometimes those things happen, but in this context it’s
impossible to interpret it as anything but a commentary about the
current scandal swirling around him,” said Larry Sabato, director
of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
In a phone interview, Walsh denied that his exit was related to
the probe. He is going to work as communications director for Sen.
John Cornyn, R-Texas.
“It was not a decision that was made lightly,” Walsh said in an
e-mail. “I will always care a great deal for Congressman Ney and
his family, and I will always appreciate the opportunity he gave
me in late 2002 by hiring me as communications director.”
Walsh will be replaced by Katie Harbath, who joined Ney’s staff
last year from the Republican National Committee and served as his
deputy press secretary before going to work on his campaign
earlier this year.
Otillio, the top legislative expert in Ney’s office, has been
replaced by Jamie L. McMillen, who worked as part of Ney’s
Heaton, who has been identified along with former Ney aide Paul
Vinovich as also being under investigation, was unavailable for
comment. Otillio could not be reached for comment either.