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Embattled Ohio lawmaker drops out of race

Ney dogged by lobbying scandal probe involving Abramoff

By Mark Preston
CNN Washington Bureau

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Ohio
Judiciary (system of justice)
GOP
Bob Ney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Embattled U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, announced Monday that he would retire at the close of the 109th Congress, abandoning a bid to win a seventh term to the House of Representatives in November.

Ney, whom the Justice Department is investigating for dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, said the decision to step down "ultimately ... came down to my family."

"I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal," Ney said in a statement his office released.

It is unclear who will take Ney's place as the Republican nominee for Ohio's 18th Congressional District, but state Sen. Joyce Padgett appears to have the inside track. Padgett announced her candidacy Monday morning.

The GOP nominee will face off against Democrat Zack Space, an attorney.

In his statement, Ney didn't mention Abramoff or the investigation that led him, under pressure from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, to relinquish chairmanship of the House Administration Committee in January.

Ney has not been charged with any crime. Federal law enforcement officers are investigating the congressman to see if he performed official acts for Abramoff in return for a lavish trip to Scotland and other things of monetary value.

Earlier this year, Ney's former chief of staff and Abramoff business associate Neil Volz pleaded guilty for lobbying the congressman before the cooling-off period for former staffers and lawmakers lapsed.

In a separate statement, Ney's attorney, Mark Tuohey, said the Ohio Republican's decision to retire was "a political and practical one and not a legal one."

"He recognizes that the ongoing investigation has created a tremendous amount of media speculation and has become an issue in the current race," Tuohey said in the statement.

"Congressman Ney wants the voters of his district to be able to have an election focused on issues and not distractions, and for that reason, he has taken his name off the ballot."

Tuohey added, "In terms of the ongoing investigation, we have repeatedly made clear that Congressman Ney has done nothing wrong, and there is no credible basis to charge him with a violation of law. If charges are brought, Congressman Ney will defend himself vigorously."

In his statement, Ney said he was "extremely proud of my 25 years serving the people of Ohio."

"We've accomplished many things to make this state better, and I will always be grateful for the trust my constituents put in me," Ney said.

A source familiar with Ney's decision told CNN on Monday that the congressman has amassed "hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills" and decided he needed to think about his children.

"It's a sad commentary on just how costly it can be, both personally and financially, to defend one's self against the full force of the U.S. Justice Department, even if you're never even charged with a crime," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The source added, "It was a very difficult decision because he truly believes he has done nothing wrong. But he ultimately felt he had to put his family and the party ahead of his own interests."

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds praised Ney for his work on behalf of his constituents as well as his service as chairman of the House Administration Committee following the September 11, 2001, attacks. While not stating who would replace Ney, Reynolds predicted Republicans would retain the seat in November.

"Ohio's 18th is a ruby red Republican district, and I am confident it will remain in GOP hands come November," Reynolds said in a statement.

But Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, immediately sought to tie Padgett to Ney and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest for failing to report gifts.

"Bob Ney was forced out of this race by the reality of an electorate demanding change from the culture of corruption in Washington and a Congress that compulsively puts special interests first at every opportunity," Burton said in a statement.

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