Two Republican members of the &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/war/2003/03/04/44000.html ' target=_blank>House ethics committee refused themselves Wednesday from any investigation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, saying their presence on the panel could pose a potential conflict of interest because they both contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund.
Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas and Tom Cole of Oklahoma said they met with committee chairman Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington about the matter, and everyone agreed that their recusals would be in the "best interests" of the committee. Smith said any action the committee takes regarding DeLay will "come under intense scrutiny," and he didn't want to present a distraction, tells CNN News.
The decision represented an effort by Republicans to avert calls for an outside counsel to lead the House investigation into the powerful party leader and to restore credibility to its internal ethics process. That process has been rocked by accusations that Republicans had sought to weaken it through new rules and membership changes. Mr. Cole and Mr. Smith were added to the committee this year after the panel admonished &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/mailbox/22/98/387/11830_bush.html ' target=_blank>Mr. DeLay three times last year.
Democrats' objections to the changes in the panel's rules and membership had created a partisan impasse that had paralyzed the ethics committee until the meeting Wednesday.