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Ethics panel again rebukes DeLay on conduct

Cites 2 situations on majority leader

WASHINGTON -- The House Ethics Committee last night admonished majority leader Tom DeLay for asking federal aviation officials to track an airplane involved in a Texas political spat and for conduct that appeared to link political donations to legislative action.

The two-pronged rebuke marked the second time in six days -- and the third time overall -- that the ethics panel has admonished the House's second-ranking Republican. The back-to-back chastisements are highly unusual for any lawmaker, let alone one who aspires to be speaker, and some watchdog groups and Democrats called on him to resign his leadership post.

The Ethics Committee, consisting of five Republicans and five Democrats, concluded its seven-page letter to DeLay by saying: ''In view of the number of instances to date in which the committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House rules and standards of conduct."

DeLay's lawyer, former representative Edwin R. ''Ed" Bethune, Republican of Arkansas, said that the committee's findings stopped far short of some of the harshest allegations, such as bribery, contained in the complaint filed in June by Representative Chris Bell, Democrat of Texas. DeLay, noting that the committee was taking no action beyond admonishing him, said in a statement that the panel ''has done the right thing in dismissing Mr. Bell's embellished allegations. . . . I accept the committee's guidance."

DeLay, 57, a 10-term veteran, helped orchestrate the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 and later became renowned for his bare-knuckled tactics as the majority whip and an unrivaled fund-raiser. The former exterminator from the Texas suburb of Sugar Land for years has been the target of Democratic criticism, but now is under fire from a House ethics panel evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

While DeLay continues to enjoy broad support within his party, some independent analysts warned recently that another ethics rebuke could seriously impair DeLay's ability to continue to lead the Republicans or further advance his career.

The ethics panel faulted DeLay's actions in asking the Federal Aviation Administration last year to help locate a private plane that Republicans thought was carrying Texas Democratic legislators. The Democrats were leaving the state to prevent a quorum that Republicans needed in Austin to pass a disputed congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay.

Separately, the ethics committee admonished DeLay for his dealings with top officers of Kansas-based Westar Energy Inc. The officers wrote memos in 2002 citing their belief that $56,500 in campaign contributions to political committees associated with DeLay and other Republicans would get them ''a seat at the table" where key congressional legislation was being drafted.

The ethics panel, formally called the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, deferred action on a third complaint against DeLay regarding the activities of the fund-raising group Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee, to which he is closely linked.

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