House Ethics Chairman Offers Probe of DeLay

The Republican chairman of the House ethics committee said Wednesday that he is prepared to break a deadlock over investigative rules of the panel and launch a probe of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Democrats, however, are not biting.

Rep. Doc Hastings (search), R-Wash., announced that he will empanel a subcommittee to investigate some of the charges surrounding DeLay if the Democrats agree to a compromise effort designed to break the impasse that has kept the committee from organizing.

The Republicans were "prepared to vote at the earliest opportunity to empanel an investigations subcommittee to review various allegations concerning travel and other actions" by DeLay, he said.

Four of the five Republicans on the committee are on board for immediate movement, Hastings said. Reps. Judy Biggert of Illinois, Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania and Tom Cole of Oklahoma joined Hastings at the news conference. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas did not attend. The panel also has five Democratic members.

Republicans are trying to force Democrats to return to the table by suggesting that if DeLay is the stopping point for organizing the panel then they are willing to take him out of the mix. DeLay has repeatedly said he has done nothing wrong and has asked to appear before the committee to explain all the travel he has taken that has been called into question. He has called Democratic demands part of a smear campaign.

Last year, the panel admonished DeLay three times, saying that he had created an appearance of conflicts of interest in his dealings with federal agencies and special interests. He is not accused of breaking any House rules.

Hastings called the proposal "a means by which [DeLay] can state his case" to the panel.

Shortly after the press conference, Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the officially named Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (search), rejected the GOP's offer, saying rules changes should be a bipartisan product from start to finish.

"There is this bipartisan fundamental or predicate that has to be preserved with regards to the ethics committee if we're going to have a real ethics committee in the Congress. If we're going to stand up a real ethics committee, we need to do it right. They are not doing it right," Mollohan said.

An agreement would have been the first movement of the committee since the House approved new ethics rules last January. Those rules would require dismissal of a case if no action by the committee is taken in 45 days, replacing a rule where inaction would automatically trigger an investigation.

The new rules also require a majority to approve an investigation, meaning someone from one of the parties would have to agree to investigate one of his or her own for a probe to begin. Republicans control the House, 232-202, with one independent.

Last week, Hastings made a similar offer to make changes, but not in writing. Mollohan rejected the proposal a week ago because he wants a bipartisan task force to write new ethics rules.

Hastings emphasized that this offer was more than just a proposed change in the rules.

"Let me emphasize that this is an unusual and extraordinary step for the committee to take," he said.

Hastings would not comment on whether he had spoken to DeLay about the proposal, but he did say he could not speak with a member "about matters that may or may not come before the ethics committee."

On his own, DeLay issued a statement thanking Republicans for their efforts, agreeing that the House needs a functioning ethics committee and welcoming the chance to respond to charges against him.

"For more than a month I've said I hope for a fair process that will afford me the opportunity to get the facts out and set the record straight. I welcome the opportunity to address this with the committee," he said.

FOX News' Jim Mills and The Associated Press contributed to this report.