Pelosi Faces Ethics 'Litmus Test' With Mollohan Case, Analyst Says

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - For the third time in as many weeks, House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi faces what one analyst called a "litmus test" of her stated commitment to ethics, as a congressman whose finances are being examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in line to head the panel that determines the FBI's budget.

Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee for Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies, which oversees the Department of Justice, including the FBI. Other than Mollohan, no Democrat has announced an intention to seek the chairmanship.

However, the FBI is investigating the 63-year-old lawmaker regarding accusations that he funneled taxpayer money into nonprofit organizations he helped to set up and which support him with campaign contributions.

Ken Boehm, chairman of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) told Cybercast News Service on Thursday that Mollohan's leadership aspirations were a "litmus test" of how serious Pelosi was when she and fellow Democrats campaigned this year on "draining the swamp" in Congress of what they called a GOP "culture of corruption."

"Somebody under investigation by the FBI shouldn't have any leverage over his investigators," Boehm said. "If Pelosi or the new majority in Congress doesn't understand that, then they don't have a clue as to what the 'culture of corruption' is because it's staring them in the face."

Noting that Pelosi made ethics in government "the absolute, number one issue" in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, the NLPC chairman said her decision regarding Mollohan is "going to be pretty telling," especially since the speaker-designate has suffered two political setbacks in recent weeks.

On Nov. 16, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer was overwhelmingly voted in as the new majority leader despite Pelosi's efforts supporting Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha for the post.

Murtha, whose war hero status and Abscam involvement came under scrutiny earlier, was supported by Pelosi because of what she called his "courageous leadership" in the national debate over the war in Iraq.

"Is that the type of person she wants as majority leader?" Boehm asked. "Apparently, her own caucus - by a vote of 149 to 86 - rejected that.

"If she can't sell her own caucus on putting a sleazy member of Congress into a position of authority, then how is she going to sell that [the Mollohan post] to the public? I don't think she will," Boehm added.

On Nov. 28, Pelosi announced she would not elevate Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) - her original choice for chairman of the House Intelligence Committee - because of concerns over his impeachment while serving as a federal judge in 1989. Instead, she named Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas to the post.

Because of the Murtha and Hastings setbacks, Pelosi's decision on Mollohan will be "a big, underappreciated test" of her leadership, Boehm noted.

'Integrity versus corruption'

According to documents obtained by the NLPC, Mollohan and his wife, Barbara, reported under $550,000 in assets in 2000. That figure soared to more than $8 million just five years later.

On April 10, the NLPC accused the West Virginia Democrat of violating more than 250 House ethics rules.

Eleven days later, Pelosi announced that Mollohan would step down from the ethics committee while defending himself against the allegations.

On June 13, Mollohan filed two dozen corrections to his past six annual financial disclosure forms, asserting that his accountant had uncovered several unintentional errors. He attributed his substantial rise in assets to prudent real-estate investments.

However, Boehm said that the congressman had admitted to other ethical breaches as well.

Mollohan should not serve on the subcommittee that handles appropriations for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the NLPC chairman said, because he "has a history of using earmarks in HUD to direct tens of millions of dollars to a group run by one of his business partners" who used to be a member of his staff.

"Wouldn't anybody who wants to 'drain the swamp,' as Nancy Pelosi has so elegantly put it, think that somebody who's shown time and again he'll abuse the appropriations process should be taken off the committee, and pronto?" Boehm asked.

Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday: "I don't have any thought that Mr. Mollohan ought to step down at this time."

The liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has recommended that "no member under federal investigation be involved in the oversight or appropriations of any agency involved in investigating that member."

Boehm welcomed CREW's stance. "This shouldn't be a conservative-versus-liberal issue, a Republican-versus-Democrat issue. This is an issue of integrity versus corruption.

"The standard that Nancy Pelosi has set for the 110th Congress is that this is going to be the most ethical one ever," Boehm added.

"She is being called upon to use her position to make a decision, and the decision ought to be in favor of what's right and what's ethical and the way Congress can be, especially in light of the fact that that's been her mantra for the past year," Boehm said.

Calls seeking response from Pelosi and Mollohan were not returned by press time.

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