Republicans Could Face New Ethics Probes

By LARRY MARGASAK
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 7, 2007; 2:13 AM

WASHINGTON -- Republicans could face ethics investigations for contacting U.S. attorneys about pending cases, a jarring political development only four months after ethical lapses helped cost the GOP control of Congress.

Two veteran Republican lawmakers and a top GOP leadership aide contacted prosecutors who later were fired. All three denied wrongdoing.

Democratic-run committees in both the House and Senate are investigating the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Six of those prosecutors told Congress on Tuesday they felt pressured by the interventions.

The Senate ethics committee already is conducting a preliminary inquiry into the call by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to a prosecutor in his state. The action was required once the committee received a complaint against Domenici from a congressional watchdog group.

The House's ethics panel has more discretion on starting an initial inquiry. But Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said there should be one. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., contacted the same prosecutor as Domenici.

Edward Cassidy, a top aide to House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio and a former ethics committee staff member, contacted a prosecutor in Washington state.

The Senate's ethics manual says Senate offices should refrain from intervening in pending court actions "until the matter has reached a resolution in the courts." The House's version has similar warnings.

Cassidy's case presents a potential conflict for the senior Republican on the House ethics committee, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state. Cassidy was his top aide in his personal office and on the committee.

Hastings normally would play a crucial role in the evenly divided committee, in deciding whether to begin an initial investigation and appointing an investigative subcommittee. He would not comment Tuesday on whether he planned to remove himself from any committee decisions.

Hoyer, a key architect of the Democrats' takeover of the House, expressed no reluctance to jump on the new Republican dilemma.

"When issues are raised in the public sphere, I think the committee has a responsibility on its own, and I would hope they would do that," Hoyer told reporters.

Democrats made GOP ethical misdeeds a major issue in the fall campaign. They singled out former GOP Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the subject of several ethics probes, and were handed a pre-election scandal when it was disclosed that former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., made advances to former male teenage pages.


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