- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004


Rep. Joel Hefley’s days as chairman of the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee may be numbered.

After co-authoring an admonishment of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Republican from Colorado is on House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s list of chairmen likely to be replaced when Congress begins its new session on Tuesday.

“If he makes that decision, it will be because of the rules, not for any other reason,” Hastert spokesman John Feehery said. “The speaker thinks that Chairman Hefley has done a terrific job.”

It’s no secret that Mr. Hefley’s independence has chafed the leaders of his party. But Mr. Hastert of Illinois believes House rules say time is up on Mr. Hefley’s tenure on the committee, Mr. Feehery said. That interpretation of the rules is likely to be disputed, but in any case the speaker can install a new chairman at his discretion.

Telephone calls to Mr. Hefley’s office were not answered Thursday. Democrats scoffed at the notion that his actions would be unrelated to a move to replace him as chairman.

“It is our responsibility to uphold a high ethical standard,” said Mr. DeLay’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. “Removing a chair of the ethics committee for upholding that standard would be a stain on the House of Representatives.”

The shadow of grand jury action hovers over Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, as a Texas state panel probe continues under the direction of prosecutor Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

In September, grand jurors indicted three DeLay associates and eight corporations in an investigation of corporate contributions to a political action committee associated with Mr. DeLay.

On Thursday in Texas, a judge accepted a deal in which prosecutors dropped charges against one of the eight corporations, Sears, Roebuck and Co., in exchange for its cooperation in the investigation.

In Washington, Mr. Hefley in October co-authored two ethics panel admonishments of Mr. DeLay.

In one, the panel said Mr. DeLay had created the appearance of linking political donations to a legislative favor and had improperly gotten the Federal Aviation Administration to intervene in a Texas political dispute.

In the other, the ethics panel chastised Mr. DeLay for offering to support the House candidacy of Michigan Republican Rep. Nick Smith’s son in return for the lawmaker’s vote for a Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

The panel said Mr. DeLay did not break House rules.

Emboldened by gains in the November election, House Republicans moved quickly to thank Mr. DeLay by adopting a new rule saying, in effect, a state grand jury indictment on a felony charge should not automatically strip the majority leader of his title.

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