WASHINGTON - October 4 - In a letter sent today to the House Ethics Committee, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer called on the Committee to appoint an outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation of House Republican leaders and how they dealt with the House page scandal that led former Representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to resign last week.
According to the letter, ''Published reports indicate that a number of House Republican leaders had been aware for months that former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) had engaged in improper communications with a House page.''
The letter states, ''An investigation by an outside counsel is required in order to make a publicly credible determination about what House Republican leaders did, or did not do, once they learned about former Representative Foley's improper communications with a House page, and whether their actions, or failures to act, represented improper conduct by the House Members involved.''
The letter adds, ''Furthermore, the case again demonstrates why it is essential to establish an independent Office of Public Integrity (OPI) in Congress. The House failure to create an effective and publicly credible ethics enforcement process in this Congress, in the face of the worst House scandals in decades, is a national disgrace.''
According to the letter, ''An OPI would have allowed an independent, nonpartisan and professional office to work with the House Ethics Committee in the Foley matter, and would have provided public credibility for such an investigation and its results.''
The letter continues, ''Legislative proposals to create an OPI were introduced in this Congress by Representatives Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA), and by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT).''
The letter states, ''In the House, the OPI proposal was disgracefully blocked by the House Republican leaders, including House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA), from even being considered for a vote on the House floor during consideration of lobbying and ethics legislation.''
According to the letter, ''The establishment of an Office of Public Integrity in Congress, as proposed in the Shays-Meehan legislation (H.R. 4799), would effectively address the overriding ethics failure in the House today, the absence of a real and publicly credible system for conducting ethics investigations and enforcing the congressional ethics rules.''
The letter adds, ''An investigation by an outside counsel must determine what steps, if any, these House leaders took to investigate whether Representative Foley had engaged in improper communications with the House page involved, and with other House pages, which, according to published reports he, in fact, had done.''
The letter says, ''An independent investigation by an outside counsel must determine whether any improper efforts were made to conceal this matter, and why this matter apparently was not brought to the attention of all Members who serve on the House Page Board or to the attention of the Members of the House Ethics Committee.''
According to the letter, ''For example, according to published reports, two of the three Representatives who sit on the House Page Board, Representatives Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), have said they were never informed about the emails that were brought to the attention of Representative Shimkus, Chairman of the House Page Board, and other House Republican leaders.''
The letter continues, ''An independent investigation by an outside counsel must determine whether the House Republican leaders, who knew about the problem with Representative Foley months ago, failed to protect the interests and rights of House pages and failed to protect the institutional integrity of the House.''
The letter states, ''In short, an independent investigation by an outside counsel is required to determine whether the House Republican leaders who had knowledge of Representative Foley's improper communications with a House page dealt with this matter in a way that fails to 'reflect creditably' on the House, in violation of House ethics Rule 23.''
The letter adds, ''Since this matter involves the Speaker of the House and other high-ranking Republican leaders, it is essential that an outside counsel be retained by the House Ethics Committee in order for there to be a publicly credible investigation of the matter.''
According to the letter, ''Democracy 21 calls on the House Ethics Committee to expeditiously appoint an outside counsel to conduct a full investigation of the Foley scandal and the way in which it was handled by House Republican leaders.''
The letter concludes, ''We also call on the House to act expeditiously to address the most dangerous and damaging problem with the House ethics process by establishing an Office of Public Integrity in Congress, as set forth in the Shays-Meehan bill.''
A copy of the letter is available at http://www.democracy21.org.