WASHINGTON -- Representative Bob Ney pleaded guilty yesterday in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation, the first lawmaker to confess to crimes in an election-year scandal that has stained the Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration.
Beleaguered GOP leaders said Ney will be expelled from the House if he doesn't quit by the time they return to Washington after the Nov. 7 elections.
Appearing before Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle on charges of conspiracy and making false statements, Ney acknowledged taking trips, tickets, meals, and campaign donations from Abramoff in return for official actions on behalf of his clients.
Ney, an Ohio Republican, faces up to 10 years in prison. The Justice Department recommended 27 months behind bars. Ney's lawyers plan to recommend him for a Bureau of Prisons alcohol treatment program, which could cut dramatically the time he serves behind bars. Huvelle set sentencing for Jan. 19.
Although Ney's lawyer and the congressman promised he would resign in the next few weeks, it was not soon enough for House Republican leaders who are on the defensive because of fresh scandals in the final weeks before the midterm elections.
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and other Republican House leaders, along with their top aides, are under investigation by the House Ethics Committee in a possible cover up of former Representative Mark Foley's sexually charged messages to teenage males who served as House pages.
Hastert has called on Ney to resign, as did White House spokesman Tony Snow, who said Ney's criminal activity ``is not a reflection of the Republican Party." House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, said he will introduce a resolution to expel Ney from the House as soon as Congress returns to Washington.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, faulted Hastert and the Republican leadership for letting Ney remain on the public payroll since he signed papers in September agreeing to plead guilty. Pelosi said House GOP leaders ``have a long pattern of protecting Republican members."
Political corruption has hurt Republicans more than Democrats, recent AP-Ipsos polling indicates. Democrats had the advantage over Republicans on the question of who would do a better job of handling corruption, 40 percent to 25 percent.
Ney is the latest in a string of once-influential men convicted in a scandal that so far has caught several lobbyists and two members of the Bush administration.
Abramoff, a former Republican lobbyist, admitted guilt in January. Two former aides to Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, the former House majority leader, have also pleaded guilty, as has Ney's former chief of staff.
Former White House official David Safavian, who was the Bush administration's top procurement official, was convicted of covering up his dealings with Abramoff. He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 27.
Abramoff's lobbying team had 485 contacts with the Bush White House in three years, according to a recent House report.
Ney confessed his criminal acts during a half-hour session at a federal courthouse a few blocks from the Capitol, where until recently he wielded a gavel as chairman of the House Administration Committee.
Responding to each of 25 questions Huvelle asked, Ney agreed he had conspired to deprive the government of his ``honest services," a fraud-related charge often used in public corruption cases.
Ney also acknowledged making false statements on his financial disclosure forms by concealing that Abramoff and a foreign businessman were the true source of gifts Ney received.
The gifts ranged from a trip to Scotland bankrolled by Abramoff's clients to thousands of dollars in gambling chips Ney got on two overseas junkets from foreign businessman Fouad al-Zayat, a Syrian-born aviation company owner in Cyprus.
The congressman admitted he gave $5,000 from one gambling trip to a staff member to carry across the border so Ney could report a lower dollar amount to US Customs officials.
Ney agreed to push legislation helpful to Abramoff clients including Indian tribes and a foreign beverage distiller. Ney agreed to help Al-Zayat get a visa to enter the United States and a legislative exemption to laws barring the sale of US-made airplanes and parts to a foreign country.
Regarding Abramoff, Ney acknowledged accepting all-expense-paid and reduced-price trips to play golf in Scotland in August 2002, to gamble and vacation in New Orleans in May 2003, and to vacation in New York in August 2003. The total cost of all the trips -- in which others, including some aides, participated -- exceeded $170,000, prosecutors said.