Sources on Capitol Hill say GOP pressure will grow for Rep. Robert Ney to step down if he is indicted before the November congressional elections.
Ney, an Ohio Republican, insists he will push on regardless of what action the Justice Department might take in its investigation of his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But Republican staffers on the hill worry that the GOP cannot afford to lose Ney's seat in eastern Ohio as Democrats press to take control of the House.
The Justice Department has stepped up its investigation of Ney, who aided Abramoff and accepted campaign donations, a golfing trip to Scotland, and other favors from the lobbyist. Last week, Roll Call newspaper reported that one of his aides had been subpoenaed by a grand jury, and other aides are also likely to be subpoenaed.
Moreover, Ney's legislative director resigned last week, while two others are leaving soon.
One of them, Brian Walsh, Ney's communications director, says his decision to leave "is a personal decision,'' and had nothing to do with the investigation. Walsh will be joining the staff of Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.
Last month, Ney told U.S. News and the Bulletin that he was "in this race till the end.'' Ney is in a tough campaign against Democrat Zack Space. A recent poll conducted for Ney showed him with a slight lead. Aides say that in the end, the Justice Department investigation might actually cause a public backlash that helps keep Ney in office.
"They are now issuing subpoenas [to Ney aides], which they could have done at any point over the last year,'' says a person close to the lawmaker. "This could well influence the election in his favor.''
--Edward T. Pound