WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty Friday to charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation, becoming the first sitting member of Congress to confess to taking bribes in the scandal.
“I accept responsibility for my actions, and I am prepared to face the consequences of what I have done,” Ney said in a statement distributed to reporters outside a federal courthouse.
Before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, Ney pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. A month ago, in a plea agreement with prosecutors, Ney admitted that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in illegal gifts and other largesse that included nights of casino gambling in London and a lavish golf junket to Scotland.
In return, Ney acknowledged, he used his legislative clout to do favors for Abramoff and for a Syrian businessman nicknamed the “Fat Man.”
Sentencing is set for Jan. 19, by which time Ney, who is not seeking re-election, no longer would be serving in Congress. With mounting legal bills, some on Capitol Hill speculated that Ney might try to stay in office a few more weeks to maintain a salary. Members of Congress earn at least $165,000 a year.
Ney’s lawyer told the judge that the congressman would resign his seat in the next few weeks.
But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., already feeling political heat over the page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, could be pressured to push Ney from his committee seats when Congress reconvenes for a special session after the Nov. 7 elections.
And House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., announced he would introduce a resolution expelling Ney as soon as Congress returns.
At the White House on Friday, press secretary Tony Snow signaled the distance Republicans will try to put between themselves and Ney in the run-up to the midterm election.
“He ought to resign,” Snow said. “What Congressman Ney did is not a reflection of the Republican Party; it’s a reflection of Congressman Ney.”
Ney, 52, a six-term Republican, could face a maximum prison term of 10 years, but Huvelle said prosectors were recommending 27 months. She said federal guidelines suggest he should be fined between $5,000 and $60,000.
Until the Abramoff scandal, Ney was best known nationally for renaming the french fries in the House cafeteria as “freedom fries” after France refused to support the U.S. war in Iraq.