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Ethics Committee appoints panel in Berkley case

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it had appointed a panel to investigate whether Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley used her position to protect her family's financial interests, giving Republicans additional fodder to question her conduct leading up to November's election for a Senate seat in a critical swing state.

The Nevada Republican Party filed a complaint last year saying that Berkley's efforts to keep a kidney transplant program open at University Medical Center in Las Vegas constituted a conflict of interest because her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, is a managing partner of a company that contracted with the hospital to provide kidney care.

The Ethics Committee had earlier said it was reviewing the matter and would announce its course of action by Monday. The committee could have dismissed the complaint outright, but its decision to conduct an investigation gives critics more opportunities to raise the specter of impropriety.

Berkley's campaign said it was pleased with the committee's decision "to conduct a full and fair investigation."

"We are confident that ultimately it will be clear that Congresswoman Berkley's one and only concern was for the health and well-being of Nevada's patients," said Jessica Mackler, Berkley's campaign manager. "That's why she joined then-Republican Congressman Dean Heller to prevent Nevada's only kidney transplant program from being shut down by Washington bureaucrats."

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