- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

A 1997 charge against a House Democrat is ‘the only open, active investigation sitting in the ethics committee,’ a senior Republican leadership aide said yesterday, after the House majority leader accused committee Democrats of protecting one of their own.

The House ethics committee last year began looking into a complaint filed against Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, over a 1997 incident in which he gave reporters an illegally recorded phone conversation among House members.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and a recent target of Democrats’ ethics charges, said in an interview with The Washington Times on Wednesday that he would be cleared by a committee investigation, but that Democrats are refusing to convene as a way of shielding Mr. McDermott.

?The Democrats have frozen the committee and have frozen the investigation, and it’s helping one of their own,? the Republican aide said on the condition of anonymity. ?If the committee acts, [Mr. McDermott] would likely suffer consequences.?

Committee Democrats say they are objecting to changes in rules that they say are destroying the ethics investigation process. The House passed the changes last year.

?It’s not about the individuals; it’s about the institution,? said Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat.

Rep. Joel Hefley, the Colorado Republican who chaired the ethics panel last year, said a subcommittee was appointed to investigate the complaint against Mr. McDermott.

Mr. Hefley said he doesn’t know the status of the complaint but that Democratic panel members presented no objections to the probe last year.

The complaint against Mr. McDermott stems from a 1996 conference call among Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and other members of Congress, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, in which the congressmen discussed how to respond to an ethics investigation of Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. Boehner was in Florida at the time and his cell phone call was intercepted by a Florida couple, Alice and John Martin, who recorded it.

In January 1997, the Martins gave the recording to Mr. McDermott, the top Democrat on the ethics panel. Mr. McDermott subsequently leaked the tape to news outlets, including the New York Times. When the Martins revealed Mr. McDermott’s role in leaking the tape, the congressman resigned from the ethics panel.

The Justice Department fined the Martins $500 each for illegally intercepting the call. The department did not act against Mr. McDermott, but Mr. Boehner filed a lawsuit against him.

The civil case was sent from court to court for several years. In August, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Mr. McDermott had ?participated in an illegal transaction when he accepted the tape,? and fined him $60,000 plus Mr. Boehner’s attorney fees. Mr. McDermott appealed the case, which is pending before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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