July 1, 2005

Panel clears way for expected DeLay inquiry

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of the U.S. House ofRepresentatives ethics committee on Thursday resolved astaffing dispute, clearing the way for a long-anticipatedinvestigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

DeLay, a Texas Republican, has denied any wrongdoing, andhas said for months that he is anxious for the panel to reviewquestions about his ties to lobbyists and foreign trips.

But the ethics panel has been shut down most of this year,with Democrats and Republicans with each accusing the other oftrying to gain political leverage, and blaming each other forthe staffing impasse.

The panel has been unable to examine cases involving DeLayor any other member because of the staffing dispute and anow-resolved earlier impasse over House ethics rules.

The accord will clear the way for the hiring of anonpartisan staff, including investigators and a chief counsel,which could take a couple of months.

Committee chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington stateRepublican, and Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, thepanel's top Democrat, announced their agreement in a briefstatement.

"We are pleased to resolve this issue and are committed tostanding up the committee, with a full complement ofprofessional, nonpartisan staff, as soon as possible," theysaid.

"It is our intent to establish a committee and process thatreflect credibly on the House, its members and the public theyserve," Hastings and Mollohan added.

DeLay was admonished by the ethics committee on threeseparate matters last year, and has faced questions this yearabout his ethical conduct, particularly regarding hisrelationship with lobbyists and foreign trips paid by outsidegroups.

DeLay had even accused the Democrats of stalling on theethics committee staffing question in order to push aninvestigation of him into next year's congressional elections.

Democrats, who have made DeLay a top political target,denied it. They have charged that Republicans had been the onesdragging their feet while seeking to gain advantage on thecommittee, composed of five Democratic and five Republicanlawmakers.

The attention on DeLay has prompted scrutiny of othercongressional travel. This has resulted in complaints aboutmembers on both sides of the political aisle that could end upas matters for the ethics committee to examine.