The Washington Post reports that Hastert is considering replacing the current chair of the House ethics committee, Joel Hefley, who has shown a modicum of independence by not sweeping under the rug charges levied against Majority Leader DeLay. As the Post points out, Hefley has had the temerity to say he will treat charges against the Hammer "like I would handle anything else."
Hastert is considering replacing Hefley with a pliable ally of the leadership, Lamar Smith of DeLay's home state of Texas. Says the Post:
The effort by DeLay and his allies to preserve his leadership post, even if he faces criminal charges, is one of the most sensitive issues facing Republicans as the new Congress begins. If Hefley is replaced by Smith, it is another signal by House leaders that they will stand by DeLay. "It certainly seems they're circling the wagons," said a GOP staff member who declined to be identified.
But Lamar Smith isn't just any friend -- he's a friend who has donated $10,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund, as Public Citizen has documented. Better yet, as the Austin Statesman-American puts it, Smith "got the ball rolling" by writing the first check of 2004 to the fund (via corrente). Oh, and yes, I know what you're thinking: He did vote for the DeLay rule in the Republican Conference to permit an indicted leader to keep his post. (Hefley voted against and has not donated money to date to the defense fund; however, they both received $20 from DeLay's PAC.)
Off the Kuff shows at least one instance when Smith clearly carried water -- er, rum -- for the Hammer on a matter of dubious ethics regarding a favor for Bacardi. This, you will recall, was after DeLay caught some heat for pushing the same legislative language into a defense appropriations bill not long after receiving a $40,000 donation from the company. Smith's bill aimed to do the same thing and provided some political cover for DeLay. That's just the kind of team player Hastert wants to install as chair of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is formally known.