Ehlers will review all panel staff

Less than a week after Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) agreed to step down temporarily as chairman of the House Administration Committee in the face of mounting ethics charges, a senior staffer to newly tapped Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) told panel staffers that they were under review.

Jon Brandt, Ehlers’s communications director, said the chairman’s chief of staff is reviewing all members of the House Administration staff — standard procedure when a committee changes hands — although he did not elaborate on the reviews’ intent. So far, there have not been any changes to the regular paid staff of the committee.

But soon after Ehler’s selection was announced, six interns were informed they had two weeks left with the committee, after which they would be let go, according to a knowledgeable House aide.

The interns, however, were never fired. Shortly after the interns were told about their short-term status, the message was deemed to be a staff miscommunication and the interns were informed they could stay on. No paperwork was ever filed.

Brandt denies the interns were ever told they would be let go. Instead, he said, they were given the option to join Ney’s personal office or to stay with the committee. Four decided to stay and two left for Ney’s office.

While it is considered typical for staff to change under the leadership of a new chairman and for current staff members to be reviewed when a new chairman is named, it is unclear whether it is common House procedure to review staff if the chairmanship is a temporary position.

Ney spokesman Brian Walsh declined to comment on the staff matter.

When asked if the staff review was an indication of a permanent change in the leadership of the committee, Walsh referred to Ney’s original statement, noting only that “the chairman is stepping down temporarily.”

Ney relinquished his position as House Administration chairman Jan. 15 as a result of his connections to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion.

Ney has been accused of performing legislative favors in exchange for lavish gifts, trips and campaign contributions. In the Abramoff plea agreement, Ney is referred to as the “Representative #1” who was otherwise unnamed in a Justice Department inquiry.  

Ney has maintained his innocence but said he decided to step aside for now.

“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 in a statement released when he announced his decision.

Ney is fighting the charges as well as attempts to pressure him to resign his seat. He told The Hill in an interview last week that even if he were indicted on allegations of misconduct he would run again for his congressional seat.

Ney is the second Republican this Congress to step down from his leadership position because of scandal. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) vacated his position late last year, saying then that the move was temporary but making it permanent earlier this month.

When Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) stepped in as acting majority leader, his staff did not immediately place DeLay’s staff under review, according to Blunt spokesman Burson Taylor.

“The staff who wanted to remain were retained by the Office of the Majority Leader,” Taylor said. “Congressman Blunt’s staff did not review their r