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Chairman steps aside during probe

Ohio congressman Ney identified in Abramoff lobbying scandal

From Ed Henry
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Bob Ney gave up his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee on Sunday amid an influence-peddling probe that has roiled the Republican Party, but he predicted the investigation would clear his name.

Ney, a six-term Ohio Republican, was under heavy pressure from House Speaker Dennis Hastert to give up his chairmanship after Ney was implicated in the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges January 3.

GOP sources said Friday that Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was moving to push the embattled Ney from his post. In a statement Sunday, Ney said the decision "was not an easy one and one I do not make lightly."

"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," he said.

"My love and respect for this institution and the committee is too great for me to allow this distraction to interfere with our ability to get this important work done."

Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging corruption probe.

According to court papers filed in that case, Abramoff and his business partner, Michael Scanlon, supplied a member of Congress -- identified only as "Representative 1" -- with gifts in exchange for getting the lawmaker to help their clients, including agreeing to support specific bills and placing statements in the Congressional Record.

Government sources have told CNN that Representative 1 is Ney, who has acknowledged being subpoenaed in connection with the investigation. He denies wrongdoing and predicted Sunday that he "will be vindicated completely at the end of this difficult process."

"Once these false allegations have been put to rest, and I have the full confidence that they will be, I look forward to resuming the chair for the rest of my appointed term and continuing the important work of the committee," he said.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation have told CNN that up to a half dozen people -- including Ney, another member of Congress and current and former staff members -- could face charges in the case.

Ney is the second high-profile GOP leader to leave his post amid allegations of wrongdoing.

Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, gave up his job as majority leader in September after he was indicted in his home state on charges he improperly steered corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002.

DeLay, a longtime associate of Abramoff, has denied wrongdoing and vows to fight the charges.

DeLay permanently gave up his leadership post last week after Abramoff pleaded guilty.

Another Republican, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California, resigned in November after pleading guilty to taking bribes from defense contractors.

Democrats have been hammering the GOP over what they call a "culture of corruption" surrounding the Republican leadership of Congress, and several leading Republicans have warned that the attacks could resonate among voters in November.

Rep. John Shadegg, an Arizona Republican, entered the race for majority leader Friday, becoming the third candidate for the powerful post.

Like the other two candidates -- Rep. Roy Blunt Jr. of Missouri and Rep. John Boehner of Ohio -- Shadegg vowed to tackle corruption.

Blunt -- who served as GOP whip under DeLay before temporarily taking over as majority leader in the fall -- issued a statement Saturday saying he believed he had the votes to win the post.

Boehner was chairman of the House Republican Conference from 1994 to 1998.

Shadegg resigned as House policy chairman to compete for DeLay's old post.

"I am aware of the difficulty of winning this election. I face well-organized opponents with tremendous resources," Shadegg said in a written statement. "However, I believe in the power of Republican ideas, and I believe that we need a clean break from the scandals of the recent past."

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