Scandals in the Capital Flow in Election Year

Ethics was the watchword in Washington this week. This morning, Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff investigation. Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, the investigation into the Mark Foley page scandal continues.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Washington has been simmering in a stew of political scandals this week.

NPR's Peter Overby has been keeping track of all of them and he's here now to help us sort it all out. Welcome, Peter.

PETER OVERBY: Thank you.

NORRIS: Let's start with Congressman Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican. You saw him in court today.

OVERBY: I did. He was there pleading guilty to two felonies in the Jack Abramoff scandal. He admitted that he had solicited and taken gifts from Abramoff and his colleagues while doing favors for the clients. He's the first lawmaker to plead guilty or to be convicted in this case.

The remarkable thing is that he hasn't resigned and he is under intense pressure. The White House wants him to resign. The House leaders say they will expel him during the lame duck session if he doesn't resign first.

NORRIS: And the Abramoff case, which you just mentioned, that's been in the news on and off now for more than two years. Tell us about the report that came out this week concerning that case.

OVERBY: Okay. It's sort of a sleeper report. It came out focusing on five tax exempt groups that Abramoff worked with - conservative tax exempt groups -notably Americans for Tax Reform, which is headed by Grover Norquist, who's sort of a centerpiece of the conservative establishment here.

The report says that Abramoff, he would arrange with clients to send money to the groups, and then the groups would do things like write op-ed pieces supporting his client's positions. The report comes from the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee.

It's a minority report. It raises questions about whether these groups crossed the line of what tax exempt groups are allowed to do to keep their tax exemption. Americans for Tax Reform has a response to that. The response is basically what do you expect from the Democrats three weeks before the election.

NORRIS: Now as we continue to tick through this, there's the continuing fall out from the scandal involving now former Congressman Mark Foley, Republican from Florida. What's the latest on that?

OVERBY: The latest is that the House Ethics Committee has really seriously started investigating this. They have not dittered the way they usually do in ethics cases. Yesterday they heard from Kirk Fordham, who used to be Foley's chief of staff. He is one of the people who says that he warned House Speaker Dennis Hastert's staff three years ago about Foley's problems and he stuck with his story yesterday when he testified.

Today, they heard from John Shimkus, who is chairman of the House page program, and he says he wishes now he had told the other members of the page board what was going on with Foley and his interest in the male pages.

NORRIS: So he's saying he wishes he would have handled that a bit differently?

OVERBY: Yeah, 20/20 hindsight was the phrase he used. And the committee's going to continue next week hearing from more House Republicans who had raised questions about Foley over the past several years.

NORRIS: Now, Republicans - we should say - weren't the only ones in the headlines for questionable actions this week.

OVERBY: That's true. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was the subject of an Associated Press story that has to do with a land deal that he was involved in between 1998 and 2004. It's a complicated deal. He bought the land in '98. He sold it in 2004 for more than double what he paid for it.

He says it was sloppy record keeping, sloppy compliance with ethics laws. Republicans have embraced this as a sign of bipartisan ethics problems. They've sent out 19 e-mails about Harry Reid just since yesterday morning.

NORRIS: And just a quick follow up, Peter, did he break the law or are we talking about a possible ethical lapse?

OVERBY: It's hard to say. His stance is that he didn't break the law. That he may have to amend his ethics, his financial disclosure reports if the Senate Ethics Committee tells him to. Republicans say that there is more here, but they're not too precise about what the something more is.

NORRIS: Thank you, Peter.

OVERBY: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR correspondent Peter Overby.

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