House Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was aware of the story being developed against one of her members, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), and his questionable finances and the ensuing political troubles, yet did nothing to act on that knowledge.
The Wall Street Journal last week reported that Mollohan's income and assets grew from the mundane (no more than $565,000 in 2000) to the magnificent (about $6 million, give or take a couple hundred thou in 2004). As the weekend wore down, while House Speaker Dennis Hastert was calling for Mollohan to step aside as ranking member on the House Ethics Committee, the West Virginia Democrat's leadership was standing by him.
"Mollohan's situation will work itself out. He hasn't been charged with anything," says a Democrat leadership staffer. "But his situation calls into questions Pelosi's political antenna. People have been wondering about her sensitivity to these kinds of situations, and the fact that she knew this was coming, and knew that Mollohan's presence on the ethics committee would be a problem, yet did nothing to inoculate the party from it, shows bad judgment. It's why the talk of taking her out after 2006 keeps getting louder."
Mollohan may be out of a job too, after 2006. National Republican Congressional Campaign chairman, Rep. Tom Reynolds has recruited a strong contender against Mollohan, state delegate Chris Wakim.
Mollohan's situation, though, shouldn't let Republicans off the hook: they have failed to frame the unethical behavior Rep. William Jefferson and the questionable activities of Mollohan in the same way that Democrats have framed the situations of Reps. Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham. "Their messaging on this has just been awful," complains an outside Republican political consultant about GOP House member efforts. "We're taking a beating, and the Democrats are getting a free pass. They have just as many problem children, if not more, than we do. We should be hitting back hard."
One way to do this, say some legal experts, is for both Houses to put some teeth back into the Ethics Committees.
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