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Boehner, GOP Leaders Refute Novak Column

Republican leaders in the House are denying an item conservative columnist Bob Novak is expected to run in his syndicated column over the weekend about an alleged secret meeting earlier this week in which Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) promised Rep. Jerry Lewis the ranking slot atop the powerful House Appropriations Committee despite reports that the Justice Department continues to investigate the California Republican.

All nine of the Republican leaders in the House issued a joint statement Friday denying the meeting ever occurred, pre-empting Novak's column before it even runs nationwide this weekend.

“Mr. Novak’s source is misinformed, and the report is incorrect," the leaders said in a joint statement released by Boehner's office. "The leadership team has made no new decisions regarding the status of Congressman Jerry Lewis or any other Republican Member, and is committed to dealing equally and aggressively with all Members of the Republican Conference with respect to ethical matters, regardless of their seniority.”

Boehner has been criticized in conservative circles for failing to punish Lewis despite an extensively reported Justice Department probe into his relationship with lobbyists whose clients have garnered lucrative contracts from the spending panel he chaired until Republicans lost their majority last fall.

Boehner forced GOP Reps. John Doolittle of California and Rick Renzi of Arizona to resign their committee posts earlier this year after the FBI raided the former's home and a family business tied to the latter in separate probes. Lewis, meanwhile, remains the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee and has continuously denied any wrongdoing.

The Republican leaders issued their statement in response to an item Friday in Politico Playbook that Novak plans to run the following brief over the weekend:

"In a secret meeting Wednesday of the House Republican leadership, Minority Leader John Boehner ruled that Rep. Jerry Lewis of California will continue as the party's ranking member of the Appropriations Committee while under federal investigation on ethics charges. That widened the gap between Boehner and reform-minded House Republicans, including members of the leadership. Under investigation for sponsoring questionable earmarks, Lewis remains a major Republican spokesman in Congress. He led the Republican debate Wednesday on Democratic procedures for handling President Bush's veto of the expanded State Children's Health Insurance Program. Republican reformers complain that Boehner imposes a double standard that is harsher on rank-and-file members of Congress than on leaders. While Lewis keeps his leadership position on Appropriations, Rep. John Doolittle left the committee in April because he is a federal corruption target."

A Lewis spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mail about the Novak item and the statement from GOP leaders.

Stay tuned...