- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, violated ethics standards by giving reporters access to an illegally taped telephone call involving Republican leaders a decade ago, the House ethics committee said yesterday.

Mr. McDermott, who at the time was the panel’s senior Democrat, failed to meet his obligations as a committee leader, said a report released two days after Congress adjourned for the year. The panel took no action other than the report.

“Rep. McDermott’s secretive disclosures to the news media … risked undermining the ethics process regarding” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the committee said. It said Mr. McDermott’s actions “were not consistent with the spirit of the committee’s rules.”

The ethics complaint stems from a tape-recording made by a Florida couple, who gave it to Mr. McDermott in January 1997. They tape-recorded Mr. Gingrich, Georgia Republican, when he was House speaker, in a December 1996 conference call with Republican leaders regarding a separate ethics investigation of Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. McDermott leaked the tape to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, which published stories on the case in January 1997.

Mr. Gingrich, who was heard on the call telling House Republicans how to react to the ethics charges against him, was later fined $300,000 and reprimanded by the House.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against Mr. McDermott in a related civil case in March. The 2-1 opinion upheld a lower court ruling that Mr. McDermott had violated the rights of Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who was heard on the 1996 call. Mr. Boehner, then a Gingrich lieutenant, is now House majority leader.

The full nine-member appeals court vacated the three-judge ruling this spring and heard new arguments in the case in October. A ruling is expected next year.

Mr. McDermott, in an e-mail to the Associated Press, said he was pleased the ethics panel had concluded he did not violate overall House rules.

“I am also pleased with the committee’s acknowledgment that pending litigation in the federal court will decide the question of law over the First Amendment issues involved,” he said.

Because of the pending civil case, Mr. McDermott said he would not offer additional comment.

Rep. David L. Hobson, the Ohio Republican and former ethics committee member who filed the complaint, said he was disappointed the panel did not sanction Mr. McDermott.

“I’m not sure this decision reflects well upon the House as a whole or the ethics process,” he said, adding that he might change his long-standing support for an internal ethics panel and consider replacing it with an independent inspector general to investigate House members.

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