Wright Probe's Next Steps

THE House Committee on Standards of Conduct is required to raise its standards of proof, now that it has entered a new phase in its ethics investigation of House Speaker Jim Wright. On Monday the committee reported it had ``reason to believe'' that the Speaker had violated House rules in connection with some sales of his book and payment from a friend.

In the next round the committee reviews the evidence and raises its standard: Do its 12 members believe the evidence is ``clear and convincing?''

In an ethics case like this the committee's lawyer usually would present his prosecutorial evidence first, with the defense lawyer later offering his evidence. That order may be followed in this case, but Speaker Wright has asked that he be allowed to go first.

If the committee finds that no clear and convincing evidence exists that the Speaker broke House rules, that will be the end of the matter. But if it concludes that such evidence exists, the committee will report to the full House and will recommend punishment. Then the full House will have to decide whether it agrees. Options include censure by the House or even expulsion, although the latter is considered unlikely.

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