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Inside Politics

House ethics panel steps up bribery probe

By Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau


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Dennis Hastert
Nick Smith

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday stepped up its investigation into since-retracted allegations by a Republican congressman that he was offered a bribe in return for his vote on last year's sweeping Medicare prescription drug bill.

The naming of an investigative subcommittee came after an "informal fact finding" the committee started December 8, 2003, following Rep. Nick Smith's original allegation.

"At the conclusion of the inquiry, the investigative subcommittee is to report its findings, conclusions and recommendations to the full committee. Anyone having firsthand knowledge of the this matter is encouraged to contact the committee's office," said a statement issued by the committee.

Smith, a Republican from Michigan, issued a statement saying he will "cooperate fully with the inquiry."

"I respect the committee's decision and believe that the committee should be permitted to conduct its work without further public comment by any party," he said.

Smith, a conservative who opposed the high cost of the drug benefit, voted against the bill.

But he faced enormous pressure from his colleagues to vote for it during a middle-of-the-night roll call vote kept open for three hours as GOP leaders tried to persuade members to support the bill, which ultimately passed.

Smith, who is retiring after six terms, said afterward he was offered financial support for the campaign of his son, Brad, who is running to succeed him.

House Republicans denied they offered Smith a bribe. Smith himself has since revised his comments, saying he was offered political support for his son but not financial help.

The committee's action followed recent criticism by government watchdog groups that the ethics panel is adhering to a politically inspired "ethics truce" and not vigorously pursing allegations of wrongdoing.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois blamed Democrats for trying to drum up ethics charges against Republicans.

"I think the Democrats will try to go at us from every partisan angle they can. If they can try to go at us from ethics issues, fine. I'll match our ethics standards against any ethics standard that the Democrats have had," he said Wednesday.

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