The chairman of the Senate ethics committee is taking a cue from Attorney General John Ashcroft and considering recusing himself from a panel inquiry into Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is a personal friend of Torricelli and has donated money to Torricelli's legal defense fund, set up following a criminal investigation into campaign finance irregularities.

Torricelli was cleared by the Justice Department earlier this week, but the case was handed to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics for review.

On Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the Justice Department's investigation into the collapse of energy giant Enron, citing his receipt of campaign donations from the company while senator from Missouri.

Three watchdog groups have asked Reid to step aside for fear that his judgment will be compromised, something Reid denied.

"I respect the concerns behind the issues raised, and intend to carefully review them. I also recognize these questions could be used for political purposes and undermine the committee's integrity."

Reid said he expects to make a decision when he returns to Washington Jan. 23 for the new congressional session.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.