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A Republican congressman pleaded guilty on Friday in the Jack Abramoff political corruption investigation, becoming the first lawmaker convicted in an election-year scandal that has reached into Congress and the Bush administration.
Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio admitted he had illegally accepted trips, meals, drinks, tickets to concerts and sporting events and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars in return for official acts performed on behalf of the lobbyist Abramoff and his clients.
Ney, who abandoned his re-election race in August as the Justice Department investigated his links to the convicted Abramoff, said he was ashamed of the way his public service career was ending and will resign from Congress in the next few weeks.
But with the election less than a month away and with Democrats increasingly optimistic about winning control of Congress, the White House and House Republican leaders urged Ney to step down immediately.
“What Congressman Ney did was not a reflection of the Republican Party. It was a reflection of Congressman Ney and he ought to step down,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and other Republican House leaders said they will move to expel Ney immediately as the first order of business when Congress resumes its legislative work in November, if Ney has not resigned.
“Bob Ney must be punished for the criminal actions he has acknowledged,” they said in a statement. “He betrayed his oath of office and violated the trust of those he represented in the House. There is no place for him in this Congress.”
Appearing at a federal court a few blocks from the Capitol, Ney stood before the judge during the 30-minute hearing and said, “I plead guilty your honor.”
IN ALCOHOL TREATMENT
He gave brief answers to the judge’s questions and said he has been in an alcohol treatment program during the past month.
In a statement issued after the hearing, Ney said, “I have made mistakes of judgment and acted in ways that I am not proud of.”
The Abramoff scandal and the scandal involving lewd computer messages sent by disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley to young male congressional aides have hurt Republicans as they seek to keep control of Congress in the November 7 elections.
The Abramoff scandal also has reached into the White House, with the conviction of former Bush administration official David Safavian and last week’s resignation of Susan Ralston, an aide to top presidential political adviser Karl Rove.
Ney, who reached a plea deal with prosecutors last month, admitted he conspired to commit fraud and other offenses and that he filed false financial disclosure forms.
“I accept responsibility for my actions and I am prepared to face the consequences of what I have done,” he said in his statement.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle told the 52-year-old Ney that he faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and that, as part of his plea deal, prosecutors recommended he get 27 months in prison.
Huvelle told Ney she was not bound by the government’s recommendation and set sentencing for January 19.
Ney’s lawyer, Mark Tuohey, requested that Ney be given treatment for his alcoholism while in prison.
Ney, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, said he will resign from Congress in the next few weeks once he makes sure “my staff members are OK and that any open constituent matters and obligations are taken care of.”