House Speaker Jim Wright, citing the need to defend his reputation, signaled Thursday he will fight any charges by a congressional ethics committee that his financial dealings violated House rules.
"There are some things worth fighting for, and some of them are personal honor and reputation that you've earned over 66 years of living and giving, and that's far more precious than any public office," Wright told reporters just before he entered the House chamber to preside over opening business.Some of the allegations against the Texas Democrat involve his wife, Betty, and her employment by a firm founded by Wright and his longtime Fort Worth associate George Mallick. Wright said his wife's reputation "is very precious to me and I'm damned well, darned well, not going to let that be sacrificed."
The ethics committee was scheduled to meet again behind closed doors to put the finishing touches on a "statement of alleged violations" expected to charge the speaker with as many as 30 instances of wrongdoing. It was uncertain how soon the 12-member panel would release its formal report.
The charges were expected to center on Wright's financial relationship with Mallick - his acceptance of gifts and income - and on sales of Wright's book, "Reflections of a Public Man."
Evidence against Wright was gathered in a nine-month investigation by Chicago lawyer Richard Phelan, hired by the committee as a special counsel. Phelan submitted his 450-page report in late February and the panel began weeks of reviewing the report and voting on whether there was sufficient evidence to charge Wright with rules violations.
Should Wright contest any charges, the next phase would be a trial-like procedure at which he would defend himself. If the committee subsequently found him guilty it could recommend that the full House impose punishment ranging from expulsion to censure, reprimand, a fine or a deprivation of Wright's House privileges.
Charges would constitute a grievous blow to Wright, who as speaker stands second in line of succession to the presidency.
Most of the key issues in the case reportedly had been decided by the panel as of Wednesday, but aides to the speaker said he had not yet been notified about any committee conclusions as of Wednesday night.
NBC News reported Wednesday night the committee had tentatively decided that Mallick had a direct interest in legislation before the Congress - legislation to aid a Fort Worth, Texas, real estate development that Mallick tried to finance and legislation to help savings and loans at a time when Mallick was defaulting on a loan from an ailing thrift.