DeLay Calls Ethics Complaint Libelous

The House ethics wars continued yesterday as Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) criticized an ethics complaint filed against him in June by Rep. Chris Bell (D-Tex.).

DeLay, calling the complaint "libelous," told reporters that the House ethics committee had "disposed of [it] on a unanimous, bipartisan basis, without finding me in violation of any rule." In fact, on Oct. 6 the committee admonished DeLay in stern terms over two incidents raised by Bell.

But the committee this week also chastised Bell for including unsubstantiated "innuendo" in his complaint. That prompted DeLay and some of his supporters yesterday to say Bell should repay the government's cost of pursuing the matter.

Bell dismissed the suggestion and said DeLay was engaging in "a deplorable strategy of 'shoot the messenger.' " Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "Tom DeLay proved this morning that he is not only unethical but delusional."

Reporter Shield Bill Introduced

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced a federal shield bill to protect journalists from being forced to disclose their sources and said he plans to push for such a law next year.

The bill would provide absolute protection against compelled disclosure of sources, whether confidential or not. It would let courts require disclosure of unpublished information only if a judge determined it is critical to serving a valid and important public purpose and there is no other way to obtain the facts.

The proposal is modeled after shield laws already in place in 31 states and the District of Columbia, according to Dodd aides. The announcement came the day after a federal judge in Providence, R.I., convicted a local television reporter of criminal contempt for refusing to identify the source who gave him an FBI videotape. Judges have found eight other journalists in contempt of court in recent months, and several face possible jail time.

Judge Unfreezes Abramoff Assets

A Montgomery County appeals court lifted a temporary freeze imposed last week on the assets of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his wife, Pamela, in connection with a lawsuit over unpaid wages that was filed by employees of a religious academy that Abramoff founded.

A full hearing on the merits of an asset freeze is scheduled for next month.

Circuit Judge Eric Johnson issued the temporary order last week that barred the Abramoffs from transferring or depleting their assets other than for normal living expenses or to pay attorneys' fees. He did so at the request of 13 former employees of the now-defunct Eshkol Academy, who have sued the school and the Abramoffs, arguing they were wrongly deprived of one-quarter of their annual salaries when the school closed in May.

The school, which received most of its funds through Abramoff's efforts, has lost its funding as a result of the controversy resulting from Abramoff's lobbying on behalf of American Indian tribes.

-- Compiled from reports by staff writers Charles Babington and Helen Dewar and news services