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Hastert: Ethics Panel May Haul in Democrats

With both Republicans and Democrats scrambling to respond to the Jack Abramoff scandal, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said Tuesday that a number of Democrats may find themselves hauled before the House ethics committee if the panel ever gets back to full operation after a yearlong hiatus.

During a press conference on Republican lobbying reform proposals, Hastert blasted Democratic leaders for what he argued was a deliberate attempt to prevent the panel from organizing in order to protect rank-and-file Democrats from being investigated over allegations of wrongdoing.

Hastert also suggested that Republicans were prepared to file ethics complaints against Democrats but had been prevented from doing so because the committee was not functioning.

ďAnd, you know, when you donít have the ethics committee up and running, it gives our friends on the other side complete cover, because there are people on the other side that should be before the ethics committee and were cued up to go before the ethics committee,Ē Hastert told reporters at a Capitol press conference on Tuesday.

ďBut when you actually stall the ethics committee from being able to come into reality, you give yourself cover if you happen to be a Democratic leader and you can have free will to try to attack the other side. Thatís exactly whatís happened.Ē

Hastert added: ďWe need to have the ethics committee up and running. Iíve written several letters and urged them to do that. Itís been stalled and stalled and stalled. Itís just time we get up and going and get it done.Ē

Hastertís comments were the latest salvo in the ongoing rhetorical battle with his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), over the ethics panel. Both sides blame the other for the yearlong stalemate, which only now appears to be nearing an end.

While Hastert did not single out any Democrats by name in his remarks, GOP insiders said Hastert was referring to Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who is under investigation by the Justice Department over his role in the creation of two African telecommunications company. A former Jefferson aide, Brett Pfeffer, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the solicitation of bribes by a Member of Congress.

Pfefferís plea agreement states that an unnamed lawmaker sought payoffs for his family for aiding the two firms. Jefferson has been identified as that lawmaker.

The ethics committee is also believed to have begun preliminary investigations into Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) at the end of the 108th Congress, although little or no work has been done on these matters during the past year. Both lawmakers have been the subject of media reports suggesting that they used their Congressional offices to benefit family members.

Hastertís comments come only one week after Pelosi publicly lambasted the Illinois Republican for the failure of the ethics panel to act in the face of a mounting corruption scandal, a scandal that could threaten the GOPís hold on the House.

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