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Ney Safe From Ethics, for Now

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has not had much go right lately, but he did catch a break last week: For the moment, no other lawmaker can file an ethics complaint against him.

Under House ethics committee rules, no complaints can be filed against a Member within 60 days of any election in which that Member is a candidate, including primaries. The Ohio primaries are May 2, so for now, Ney is safe from any Member going to the committee, which is apparently operational after 15 months of partisan standoff.

That does not mean that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is formally known, cannot begin an investigation of Ney under its own authority. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), ranking member on ethics, told Roll Call last week that the panel has hired two additional investigators and is finally ready to begin its work for the 109th Congress.

The only formal complaint that must be resolved by the committee at this time was filed against Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) by Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) over McDermott’s role in an illegally taped 1997 phone call between GOP leaders. However, a number of lawmakers, including Ney, have been the subject of media reports alleging potential ethics violations.

And Ney remains under investigation by the Justice Department over his ties to former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a host of federal crimes in January, including conspiracy to bribe public officials. Ney is the “Representative No. 1” referred to in Abramoff’s plea deal with Justice, and the one-time influence peddler is cooperating with federal prosecutors looking into his dealings with lawmakers and Congressional aides.

Ney has repeatedly and publicly asked for the ethics panel to review his dealings with Abramoff, including a now infamous golf junket to Scotland in August 2002. The Ohio Republican has insisted he did nothing wrong, and Ney’s lawyers have taken the same message to the Justice Department.

Ney’s office declined to comment on the passage of the ethics deadline.

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), another subject of Justice Department scrutiny over his relationship with Abramoff, has a primary on Tuesday. After that, DeLay will once again be open to ethics complaints, which can only be filed by Members.

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