July 1, 2005

US panel clears way for expected DeLay inquiry

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of the U.S. House ofRepresentatives ethics committee on Thursday cleared the wayfor a long-anticipated investigation of Majority Leader TomDeLay by resolving a partisan staffing dispute.

DeLay, a Texas Republican, has denied any wrongdoing andhas said for months that he is eager 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 accusing each other of trying togain political leverage and causing the staffing impasse.

Consequently the panel had been unable to examine casesinvolving DeLay or any other member because of the staffingdispute and a now-resolved earlier impasse over House ethicsrules.

The new 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," they 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 accused the Democrats of stalling on the ethicscommittee staffing question in order to push an investigationof him into next year's congressional elections.

Democrats, who have made DeLay a top political target,charged that Republicans had been the ones dragging their feetwhile seeking to gain advantage on the committee, composed offive Democratic and five Republican lawmakers.

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.

Democrat had complained that Hastings wanted his own chiefof staff to oversee the committee staff, but said he had backedoff the idea last month, helping set the stage for the newaccord.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat,said, "After nearly six months, the Republicans have come towhere Democrats began -- the rules of the House must befollowed. At long last the ethics committee can get to work."

Earlier on Thursday DeLay said he was pleased an agreementwas near.

Under the deal, the committee's "nonpartisan staff" will beheaded by a chief counsel-staff director accountable to thechairman and ranking Democrat.

Two "shared staff members" will have no managerialauthority over the "nonpartisan staff," it added.

Hastings and Mollohan each appoint their own shared staffmembers, so named because they serve on the committee as wellas in the lawmakers' congressional offices.