- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The top Democrat on the House ethics committee, Alan B. Mollohan, will leave the panel — at least temporarily — while he defends his own financial conduct, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday.

The decision by Mr. Mollohan, which Mrs. Pelosi said was his own, comes in an election year when his party is accusing majority Republicans of allowing a “culture of corruption” in Congress.

Mr. Mollohan, of West Virginia, has been accused of steering money to nonprofits whose leaders contributed to his campaigns. He has denied any wrongdoing, and will be replaced by Rep. Howard L. Berman of California, a former ranking Democrat on the panel.

“The allegations against Congressman Mollohan originate from the National Legal and Policy Center, which engages in highly partisan attacks on Democrats,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

“The attacks are an attempt to deflect attention from the long list of Republican criminal investigations, indictments, plea agreements and resignations which have resulted from the reported long-term and extensive criminal enterprise run out of House Republican leadership offices,” she said.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Mollohan and the Democrats have blocked the panel from functioning by “repeatedly used the ethics committee to play politics.”

The only evenly divided panel in the House, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has been divided along partisan lines for the past 16 months and unable to launch any major new investigations. If Mr. Mollohan had stayed while under his own ethics cloud, the chances for the stalemate to end would have been almost impossible.

The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that Mr. Mollohan steered millions of dollars to nonprofit groups in his district — with much of the money going to organizations run by people who contribute to the lawmaker’s campaigns.

Also, a conservative group filed a complaint with federal prosecutors this year questioning whether Mr. Mollohan correctly reported his assets on financial disclosure forms.

While Mr. Mollohan and committee Chairman Doc Hastings, Washington Republican, had 16 months of friction, Mr. Berman had a good working relationship with former ethics Chairman Joel Hefley, Colorado Republican.

Mr. Hefley sought to have his term as chairman extended at the start of 2005, but he and two other Republicans were forced off the 10-member committee after having voted to admonish then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

Since the beginning of last year, the two leaders fought over internal rules and staffing, and in a recent meeting discussed — but were unable to agree — on launching any new investigations.

As late as Thursday, Mr. Mollohan had said he wasn’t stepping down. If that decision had held, it would have presented a major dilemma for Mrs. Pelosi — who makes her party’s appointments to the ethics panel.

Even with Mr. Mollohan’s decision, the political problem for Democrats won’t go away. Democrats have been demanding investigations of Mr. DeLay and others tied to a convicted lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, who provided lawmakers with favors including trips, meals, fundraisers at his restaurants and arena skyboxes.

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