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Congressman Implicated in Scandal Steps Aside

Bob Ney temporarily exits a key chairmanship as the GOP tries to contain the damage. He has been linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

January 16, 2006|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who has been accused of accepting lavish gifts from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, announced Sunday that he would step down temporarily from his chairmanship of a key House committee.

In recent days, Republican leaders hoping to contain damage from the Abramoff scandal had begun to discuss removing Ney as chairman of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the day-to-day operations of the House of Representatives.

Ney's announcement was seen as an effort to avoid being forced from the post.

"I want to assure my colleagues and my constituents that I have done absolutely nothing wrong, and I am convinced that I will be vindicated completely at the end of this difficult process," Ney said in a statement.

Among its responsibilities, the Committee on House Administration sets the lobbying disclosure regulations, and Ney's implication in the scandal came as congressional leaders debated revamping ethics and lobbying rules.

Eight days ago, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) appointed Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, to lead an effort to draw up legislation curbing the influence of lobbyists.

Abramoff, once one of the most powerful and politically connected lobbyists in Washington, pleaded guilty this month to conspiracy, mail fraud and income tax evasion. In his plea, he said that a member of Congress, identified in court papers only as "Representative #1," was a primary target of his gifts and influence-peddling. That member of Congress is widely known to be Ney.

Abramoff admitted in his plea to providing the congressman with, among other things, "a lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world-famous courses, tickets to sporting events and other entertainment."

In return, according to the plea statement, the congressman agreed to back legislation benefiting Abramoff's clients. He also agreed to support an Abramoff client seeking a contract to provide wireless telephone service to the House.

In addition, the plea agreement cites a former House committee staff director who also served as chief of staff to Representative #1 as inappropriately lobbying his former boss on behalf of an Abramoff client.

Neil Volz, the staff director of the House Administration Committee and a former chief of staff in Ney's office, joined Abramoff's lobbying firm after leaving the congressional payroll in early 2002.

The charges against Abramoff and his prominence among Republican lobbyists have made the question of congressional ethics and lobbying reform the primary issue in the race to fill the House of Representatives' No. 2 leadership job, majority leader.

The former majority leader, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), was forced to step aside after he was indicted in his home state for allegedly mishandling campaign donations. DeLay and many of his associates also had close ties to Abramoff.

Earlier Sunday, one of the top candidates to replace DeLay, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), urged Ney to step down from his chairmanship.

"For the good of House Republicans and the good of our party, I think Bob needs to seriously consider stepping aside," Boehner said on "Fox News Sunday." "Not that he's pleading guilty or anything else, but I think he should do what's in the best interest of our party."

Ney, 51, won his House seat in 1994, when a GOP landslide gave Republicans control of the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years. He has been easily reelected from Ohio's 18th congressional district, a largely rural region in the central part of the state, most recently with 66% of the vote.

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Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this report.

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