WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican implicated in a lobbying corruption investigation, said Sunday he will step aside temporarily as chairman of the House Administration Committee.
"Unfortunately it has become clear to me in recent days that the false allegations made against me have become a distraction to the important work of the House Republican Conference and the important work that remains ahead for the House Administration Committee," Ney said in a written statement.
That was a reference to a scramble by Republicans in the House and Senate to come up with a new set of rules governing lobbying and travel as a way to inoculate themselves politically from the scandal unfolding around the guilty plea of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Democrats are offering their own plan this week.
Ney is at the center of the Justice Department's ongoing corruption probe and has been identified as the congressman referenced by Abramoff in his guilty plea earlier this month.
Ney's decision comes as three House Republicans are waging a spirited campaign to replace Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas as majority leader. DeLay was forced by party rules to step aside after he was indicted by a state grand jury in Texas for alleged violation of campaign finance laws.
DeLay also is a longtime friend of Abramoff and some of DeLay's former aides have been charged in the Abramoff investigation.
The Administration Committee that Ney headed controls disclosures of lobbying practices and would be a key part of efforts to reform the system.
A GOP leadership aide said Friday that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was pressuring Ney to step aside because he believes it would be inappropriate for him to head the committee with jurisdiction over the Republican reform agenda.
Ney's statement Sunday said he had notified Hastert earlier in the day of his decision.
"I want to assure my colleagues and my constituents that I have done absolutely nothing wrong, and I am convinced that I will be vindicated completely at the end of this difficult process," Ney said.
Ney will maintain his chairmanship of a housing subcommittee, said his spokesman, Brian Walsh.
The GOP leadership aide who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of private talks between Ney and Hastert, said the speaker himself could not have fired Ney. Unless Ney agreed to step aside it would be at least three weeks until the GOP caucus could consider removing him, the aide said.
Court papers released as part of Abramoff's plea to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and income tax evasion detailed lavish gifts and contributions that Abramoff says he gave an unnamed House member, identified elsewhere as Ney.
Among other accusations, Abramoff said the congressman took favors including a 2002 golf trip to Scotland, free dinners and events and campaign donations in exchange for his support of Abramoff's American Indian tribe clients in Texas and the lobbyist's purchase of a fleet of Florida casino boats.
Other accusations include that Ney supported legislation to help a California Indian tribe with taxes and a post office and, as chairman of the Administration Committee, approved a lucrative deal for an Abramoff client to improve cell phone reception in House buildings.
Ney's decision comes as House and Senate Republicans scramble to devise a plan that would go well beyond current rules governing travel, gifts and lobbying by former members of Congress and their aides, as part of an effort to curtail the influence of lobbyists on lawmakers.
Ney has already instructed the House Clerk to devise a more open computerized system for members to report privately paid travel, but it was not clear what will become of that initiative.
Ney was elected to Congress from a rural district in 1994. He won a sixth term in 2004 with 66 percent of the vote, was unopposed in 2002 and hasn't drawn less than 60 percent in any election since 1996.