2 Republicans To Skip DeLay Probe

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Two Republicans on the House ethics committee say they'll step aside from any investigation of Tom DeLay, acknowledging their contributions to the majority leader's defense funds will lead others to question their impartiality.

The withdrawal announcement Wednesday represented the second time in two weeks that majority Republicans caved in to criticism by minority Democrats. Last week, Republicans reversed themselves and voted to reinstate investigative procedures they put in place nearly a decade ago.

Democrats have complained for months that Speaker Dennis Hastert appointed Republicans Lamar Smith of Texas and Tom Cole of Oklahoma to make the panel more favorable to DeLay, R-Texas. Both said they could be impartial despite their contributions, but they agreed with ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., that it was best to avoid controversy.

Cole then took a shot at his Democratic critics: "Those that sought to politicize the ethics process should start putting the institution ahead of their partisan agenda."

Smith and Cole replaced two Republicans who voted to admonish DeLay on three separate matters in 2004. Hastert also had refused to reappoint the former Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, who presided over the rebukes. Hefley had asked to remain chairman this year even though his term had ended.

The recusal decision was made as the panel formally adopted rules that will allow it to initiate investigations and receive complaints of member misconduct.

Last week, Republicans retreated from the investigative rules they had adopted in January without Democratic support. Democrats had complained the rules were designed to protect DeLay, and they kept the evenly divided panel from organizing until the GOP reversed them in a vote of the full House.

DeLay is certain to face an ethics inquiry this year because he has requested one.

Questions have been raised about whether Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist now under criminal investigation, paid for foreign travel by DeLay and several aides. House rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting travel expenses from lobbyists.

DeLay has said he had no knowledge that Abramoff, or any of his clients, paid for travel and told reporters he's ready to provide the committee years of travel records.

Abramoff is the subject of investigations by the FBI, a federal grand jury, the IRS and two Congressional committees,


Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called Abramoff's lobbying activities "a pathetic, disgusting example of greed run amok."

That greed involves allegations that Abramoff's business defrauded six Indian tribes of more than $66 million, and has resulted in a $32 million lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Couchattas.