MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Republican Congressman Joel Hefley of Colorado spent eight years on the House Ethics Committee, four years as chairman. He's retiring from Congress this winter after 20 years. As head of the ethics committee, Hefley had a reputation for even handed treatment of both parties, including his admonishment of Tom DeLay, then the majority leader of the house. Hefley's term on the ethics committee ended in 2005. The leadership chose not to extend it. Congressman Hefley says the committee's investigation into the handling of the Mark Foley scandal should proceed as quickly as possible, although in Hefley's experience, it hasn't always worked that way.
JOEL HEFLEY: You know, it depends if people that are being subpoenaed lawyer up, get themselves a lawyer, if they think that they need that, then many times that creates delays in the investigative process and that could happen. But hopefully, it is weeks, not months.
BLOCK: And what could come out of this? If there were to be penalties, what might they be?
HEFLEY: There could be everything from expulsion from Congress to finding that no one did anything wrong.
BLOCK: Well, Congressman Foley has already resigned, what will be the grounds for expelling another member of the House?
HEFLEY: Well, if someone knew that Foley was doing these kinds of e-mails that we now know about and tried to cover it up for political purposes, I think that could be reason for expulsion.
BLOCK: Congressman, do you think that Dennis Hastert should step down?
HEFLEY: No, I don't. I think we should let the normal course of things go. I think the cry for him to step down is more or less a political ploy right now. You know, my sense with him is that he has high ethical standards, but did he know about any of this in advance? I don't know. Did his staff know and not pass it on to him?
I mean, that's a question too. These are the kind of questions that need to be looked into. Did Nancy Pelosi know? Did their office know? And then there's the wait until just before the election to blow the whistle. I mean, who knows?
BLOCK: Do you think, I mean, these charges had been raised, including by Speaker Hastert, that these revelations are the work of Democratic operatives? Do you really think that's the case?
HEFLEY: I do not know. I can't say. I think it is a possibility and it's something that does need to be looked into. But I simply don't know and that's why I say it needs to be taken out of the realm of politics.
And I think, I had been opposed to special councils most of the time in the past, because I think we can do the job internally. I'm wondering with this one, it's so big, it involves the top leadership and so forth, I'm wondering if some kind of a special counselor or maybe a special task force of former members with good reputations and so forth might restore confidence that there really is an effort to get to the bottom of it.
BLOCK: Why is this investigation different? If you've managed to do a lot of other investigation, sprawling investigations that involve a lot of the members of the House, why would this require outside counsel?
HEFLEY: Well, the only reason I would suggest it in this case, is because of the high level nature of it and the public perception. I don't want the public perception to be that anyone is involved in a cover up here. This is too important, and it might be if you had some outside entity that would help that perception.
BLOCK: It is just about five weeks before the election, you now have investigation upon investigation into this matter. It seems to be spreading in many directions now. Where does this leave things, do you think, for the voting public?
HEFLEY: Well, I think the, it's not a good thing for the voting public. And I think it gives them a perception of Congress that is, I don't think, a true perception. You know, I saw the best and the worst of Congress in my eight years on the ethics committee, and my conclusion was that most members of Congress are really trying to do the right thing and to live a high ethical standard, but the spotlight is on members of Congress so much that when anybody gets in trouble, we're all painted with the same brush and it's an ugly paint job.
BLOCK: Congressman Hefley, thanks for talking with us.
HEFLEY: Happy to do it.
BLOCK: That's Republican congressman Joel Hefley of Colorado. He's the former chair of the House Ethics Committee.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.