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Easing an Ethical Dilemma

The top Democrat on a House panel is stepping down to defend his own conduct.

April 23, 2006|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After 16 months of partisan stalemate, the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee is stepping down to defend his own conduct and is being replaced by a lawmaker who has worked well with Republicans.

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D.-W.Va.) decided on his own to leave, at least temporarily, his party leader said Friday.

The departure eases a political pickle for Democrats. Had he remained, they would have been saddled with the prospect of their top committee member under investigation as his party used corruption as a major campaign theme against Republicans.

The GOP immediately went on the attack anyway.

"Congressman Mollohan and the Democrats have repeatedly used the Ethics Committee to play politics while blocking the committee from functioning," said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Mollohan will be replaced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village), a former ranking Democrat on the Ethics Committee. The 10-member panel is the only one in the House equally divided by party.

Berman has worked by consensus with committee Republicans, and he vowed Friday that he wouldn't stay long if the panel couldn't break a 16-month deadlock in which each party prevented action by the other.

Democrats have demanded investigations of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and others who were given trips, fund-raisers, meals and sports skybox seats by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that Mollohan had steered millions of dollars in appropriations to nonprofit groups in his district -- with much of the money going to organizations run by people who contributed to the lawmaker's campaigns.

Mollohan has denied any wrongdoing in the appropriations and said his financial disclosures were accurate. He attributed a large increase in assets to a boost in property values.

As late as Thursday, Mollohan was refusing to leave. A Democratic official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told Mollohan he needed to step down for the good of the party.

"It was not anything she had to get tough about," the official said.

In a statement Friday, Pelosi (D-San Francisco) called the allegations "an attempt to deflect attention from the long list of Republican criminal investigations, indictments, plea agreements and resignations which have resulted from the reported long-term and extensive criminal enterprise run out of House Republican leadership offices."

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