- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert proposed yesterday that the House ethics committee give a written “thumbs up or thumbs down” in advance to lawmakers who want to take a trip financed by companies or special interests.

He said advanced approval would clear up confusion over travel rules even as Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s trips are under scrutiny. Other lawmakers have been rushing to belatedly disclose travel or amend reports to clear up any discrepancies.

Press reports and lobbying firm records have revealed that lobbyist Jack Abramoff or his company apparently paid for travel by Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, and other lawmakers, despite a House prohibition on lawmakers accepting trips from lobbyists or registered foreign agents.

Mr. Hastert, speaking on “The Tony Snow Show” on Fox News Radio, said lawmakers “need to get a clearance up or down.”

Mr. DeLay also has called for clearer guidance on travel rules and said he was unaware that any trips were financed by Mr. Abramoff or his clients. The lobbyist is under investigation in the Senate and by federal authorities to determine whether he bilked American Indian tribes that hired him.

Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, said on the radio program that members should not travel for frivolous reasons.

“There has to be a reasonable requirement that work is being done, that they’re not being wined and dined,” the speaker said.

The speaker also defended Mr. DeLay, his second in command in the House leadership.

“Everybody’s piling on Tom DeLay,” he said. “It’s a lightning rod. He thought he was cleared on these trips. He thought they were funded by a legitimate organization.”

Mr. DeLay has asked to appear before the ethics committee to explain his travel, and the speaker said this was the right thing to do.

“Tom needs to lay out his information … and get cleared,” he said.

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