The ethics case against House Speaker Jim Wright moves from behind closed doors into an open and far more political arena this week as the committee investigating him releases its final report and the Texas Democrat begins to return fire.
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, better known as the ethics committee, is scheduled to make public on Monday the voluminous report on its 10-month inquiry, along with a formal charge that the speaker violated House rules in several dozen instances.The report is expected to present in a detailed, prosecutorial style evidence that led the panel to believe Wright improperly took some $100,000 in gifts from a Fort Worth business associate who had a direct interest in legislation before Congress, and skirted limits on outside income by encouraging bulk sales of a book he wrote.
Wright has asked that he be allowed to appear before the committee quickly - perhaps within the week - to begin his defense. He is relying on committee rules that require a relatively low threshold of evidence to formally accuse a member of Congress, but a much higher level to conclude guilt.
On one level, the case then moves into a judicial-like process that could lead to a trial or sorts with the ethics panel sitting as the jury.
But the battle will be fought on the public stage as well, with Wright arguing his innocence before colleagues and on television.
Wright's primary constituency as speaker, the 260 members of the House Democratic Caucus, are split between those who seem to relish the certain political warfare to come and those who believe the battle is already lost and wish the speaker would bow out and save them the agony.
Wright was in an upbeat and relaxed mood as he stood in the sunshine outside the Capitol and spoke to a colleague Friday, declaring himself relieved after an emotional televised speech he delivered in his own defense a day earlier.
But the political storm clouds were building.
"We haven't hit bottom yet," said one member of the speaker's defense team, fellow Texas Rep. Charles Wilson. Wilson referred to the spate of news reports certain to be spurred by release of the committee's report this week.