|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
10 Ex-G.O.P. Lawmakers Attack Changes in Ethics Rules
By PHILIP SHENON and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, April 14 - Ten former members of Congress, all Republicans, joined in a letter to the House leadership on Thursday to say they believed that revisions in House ethics rules this year were an "obvious action to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay" from investigation. They said the changes needed to be reversed "to restore public confidence in the People's House."
The letter, to be presented Friday to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, is signed by Mark Andrews, a former member of both the Senate and the House from North Dakota, and nine other former House Republicans. While it offers no conclusion about the merits of ethics controversies now swirling around Mr. DeLay, it says "the consensus in our respective districts" is that "the previous admonitions to Mr. DeLay for casting discredit on the House were well-merited."
The letter may be another blow to Mr. DeLay, who is under investigation by a grand jury in his home state, Texas, and is facing growing calls from fellow Republicans to answer accusations involving his financial ties to lobbyists and his management of his political and campaign committees.
A spokesman, Dan Allen, said Mr. DeLay would withhold comment on the letter until it had been received in the House. Spokesmen for Mr. Hastert did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
The 10 onetime lawmakers who signed the letter, all of whom left Congress before the late 1980's, described themselves as former members "who served under impeccably honest leaders."
"We offer no judgment on Mr. DeLay's actions in the obtaining of funds and favors from lobbyists and foreign agencies, other than to note that they are the subject of continuing disclosure and discussion well outside the Beltway and in the heart of areas of strong respect for traditional Republican values of honesty and accountability," they said. "We write not as a Revolt of the Elders but in the sincere hope that you will act to restore public confidence in the People's House."
"We felt grave concern," the letter added, "when the Republican leadership changed the ethics rules several weeks ago to require a bipartisan majority vote to even investigate a charge of ethical misconduct. We saw it as an obvious action to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay."
A copy of the letter, which called on House leaders "to reinstate the old rules," was provided to The New York Times by the Public Campaign Action Fund, a private group that monitors campaign fund-raising and has long been critical of Mr. DeLay.
Mr. DeLay was admonished three times by the House ethics committee last year, in part for appearing to link his support for legislation to political donations. The committee is now effectively shut down, because Democrats object to the rules changes, which make it more difficult to open an investigation. The changes allow an accusation to be dismissed if the panel, which is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, deadlocks along party lines. In the past, the investigation proceeded if the committee deadlocked.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. DeLay defended the new rules in a tense and exceptionally formal exchange on the House floor with Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip. Mr. Hoyer complained that the new rules would "preclude the investigator from gathering the facts." Mr. DeLay, on the other hand, maintained that Mr. Hastert had developed the changes with an eye toward shielding lawmakers from unfair allegations.
Apart from Mr. Andrews, those who signed the letter were John H. Buchanan of Alabama, M. Caldwell Butler of Virginia, Paul Findley of Illinois, Bud Hillis of Indiana, James Johnson of Colorado, Richard W. Mallary of Vermont, Wiley Mayne of Iowa, Pete McCloskey of California and G. William Whitehurst of Virginia.
Several were described during their Congressional careers as moderates; the letter was drafted by Mr. McCloskey, who was often described as a Republican maverick and who supported Senator John Kerry last year over President Bush.
In a telephone interview, Mr. McCloskey said he had felt compelled to prepare the letter because of his concern that "if the Republicans circle their wagons around DeLay like they circled their wagons around Richard Nixon, it may have the same result."
The letter was not the only development Thursday with possible implications for the majority leader. Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, asked the House Resources Committee to examine the work of Jack Abramoff, a longtime lobbyist friend of Mr. DeLay, in representing the government of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American commonwealth in the Pacific.
In 1995, Mr. Abramoff, with Mr. DeLay's help, persuaded the House to defeat a bill that would have stripped the Marianas of their exemption from federal minimum wage and immigration laws. From 1996 to 1998, Mr. Miller said, more than 85 members of Congress and Congressional aides, including Mr. DeLay, traveled to the Marianas; Mr. Miller and others have cited news reports suggesting that lobbyists may have paid for the trips, a possible violation of House rules.
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