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GOP seeks distance, Dems pounce after Ney's guilty plea

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican leaders of the House of Representatives said they will move to expel Ohio Rep. Bob Ney unless he resigns this month following his guilty plea to corruption charges.

Ney, the former chairman of the House Administration Committee, faces more than two years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple counts stemming from the long-running probe into disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

His lawyer, Mark Tuohey, said the six-term Ohio Republican would resign sometime before his January 19 sentencing -- but not immediately.

GOP leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, called that unsatisfactory. They said Ney's expulsion would be their "first order of business" when Congress returns in November. (Watch GOP leaders quickly distance themselves from Ney -- 2:02)

"Bob Ney must be punished for the criminal actions he has acknowledged," Hastert said in a joint statement with Majority Leader John Boehner, Republican Whip Roy Blunt and Rep. Deborah Pryce, the leader of the House Republican Conference.

"He betrayed his oath of office and violated the trust of those he represented in the House. There is no place for him in this Congress."

But Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, blasted the Republican leadership for letting Ney remain on the congressional payroll after he struck a deal with prosecutors in September. (Watch parties spar over spread of corruption in Congress -- 2:19 Video)

"House Republican leaders have a long pattern of protecting Republican members, even when it comes at great cost to the American people," she said in a written statement.

She called Ney's admissions "a tragedy" for his district and family, "and it is further proof that the Republican culture of corruption has pervaded Congress."

Ney is the third Republican congressman to resign under a cloud in six months.

Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas announced his resignation in April in hopes the move would keep his Houston-area district in GOP hands while battling state money-laundering charges.

And Florida Rep. Mark Foley abruptly quit in September as sexually explicit instant messages he sent to teenage pages surfaced, triggering a scandal that has led to calls for Hastert's own resignation.

Ney pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, deprive his constituents of honest service and violate his former chief of staff's one-year lobbying ban, and a second count of making false statements to the House. Prosecutors said they would seek a prison term of up to 27 months and fines of $60,000 at sentencing.

Ney made no comment either entering or leaving Friday's hearing. He wore a dark suit, spoke firmly and showed no sign of emotion during the hearing, which lasted about 50 minutes.

"Bob Ney is a decent, hard-working, lifelong public servant who has made serious mistakes of judgment," his lawyers, Mark Tuohey and William Lawler, said in a statement issued outside the courthouse. "He is going to pay a serious penalty for his mistakes, and today he is stepping forward and taking responsibility."

Closing since January

Prosecutors have been closing in on Ney since January, when the Justice Department identified him as "Representative 1" when Abramoff pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in May.

In August, he abandoned his re-election bid. He gave up his committee chairmanship on a temporary basis in January and made that resignation permanent after he struck a deal with prosecutors in September.

Friday, he admitted he sought to aid Abramoff's lobbying clients in exchange for lavish travel and other favors. Asked whether he ever introduced legislation as a part of that aid, he said, "Nothing was ever inserted, but I did agree to do so."

In September, after striking a deal with the government, he announced he had entered an alcohol-rehabilitation program and apologized to his constituents, colleagues and family.

"Congressman Ney's alcohol dependency has affected his judgment in this matter, but he is not offering excuses," his lawyers said Friday. "Congressman Ney accepts responsibility for his actions, and we hope that his plea, along with continued treatment, will allow him to start to move on to the next stages of his life."

Prosecutor Kendall Day said Ney would be able to continue to receive treatment while awaiting sentencing.

Justice Department documents filed in September said Ney sought to help the owner of a British company get a U.S. visa and a waiver to allow him to sell American-made aircraft parts to another country.

In return, Ney got thousands of dollars in free gambling chips from the businessman during a trip to London and used a staffer to carry $5,000 back into the United States for him to avoid disclosure requirements.

Ney also helped other Abramoff clients by advancing an application of one of their clients for a license to install a wireless telephone infrastructure in the House of Representatives and placing statements in the Congressional Record regarding a Florida casino deal.

In exchange, he and his staff received items including a golf trip to Scotland, meals at restaurants, tickets to sporting events and campaign contributions, prosecutors say. (Read Ney's plea agreementexternal link -- PDF)

Other guilty pleas

The scandal surrounding Abramoff, a prominent Republican lobbyist, has already resulted in several other cases. His business partner, Michael Scanlon, and former DeLay aide Tony Rudy have pleaded guilty in connection with the influence-peddling probe.

And ex-White House procurement official David Safavian was convicted of obstruction of justice and making false statements to conceal his relationship with Abramoff.

Prosecutors have recommended a prison term of 30 to 37 months in that case, urging a federal judge to hand down a sentence "at the high end of that range."

Susan Ralston, the executive assistant to White House political adviser Karl Rove, resigned last week out of concern that her ties to Abramoff would be "a distraction," a White House spokeswoman said.

Abramoff and his lobbying team had 485 contacts with the White House in three years of the Bush administration, according to a House report released in September.

CNN's Dana Bash and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

Rep. Bob Ney said he got "too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington."

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