WASHINGTON – House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) suggested Wednesday that the House Ethics Committee should decide in advance whether lawmakers can take certain trips funded by companies or special interests.
Appearing on the Tony Snow show on FOX News Radio, Hastert said lawmakers "need to get a clearance up or down" in writing from the Ethics Committee, which should devise a "simple way to get a thumbs up or thumbs down."
Hastert also told Snow that lawmakers should have legitimate reasons for traveling. "There has to be a reasonable requirement that work is being done, that they're not being wined and dined," the speaker said.
His comments come as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (search) trips are under scrutiny. News reports and lobby firm records have revealed that lobbyist Jack Abramoff (search) or his company apparently paid for travel by DeLay and other lawmakers, even though the House forbids lawmakers accepting trips from lobbyists or registered foreign agents.
DeLay also has called for clearer guidance on travel rules and said he was unaware that any trips were paid for by Abramoff or his clients. The lobbyist is under investigation in the Senate and by federal authorities, to determine whether he bilked Indian tribes that hired him.
As for the allegations against DeLay, Hastert said the majority leader was not aware his trips might be against the rules before he took them.
"When you start to really go into it, Tom didn't do anything out of the ordinary," Hastert said. "He thought he was cleared on those trips. He thought these things were being funded by legitimate organizations, but now when you get back into the records, it wasn't necessarily so."
When asked if Democrats might be vulnerable to the same allegations, Hastert said, "Absolutely. I know they would be." Then he added, "There would probably be a few Republicans, too."
DeLay has asked to appear before the Ethics Committee to explain his travel, and the speaker said this was the right thing to do.
"Tom needs to lay out his information ... and get cleared," he said.
Click in the video box at the top of the story to listen to Hastert's interview with FOX News' Tony Snow.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.