GOP Trou­bles May Hurt Bid To Re­take Congress in 2008

Two Com­mit­tee Res­ig­na­tions Put Spot­light Back on Ethics

The Washington Post Sunday - - National News - By Jonathan Weisman

The abrupt res­ig­na­tions last week of two Repub­li­can House mem­bers from their sen­si­tive com­mit­tee as­sign­ments have thrust lin­ger­ing le­gal and ethics is­sues back into the lime­light, po­ten­tially com­pli­cat­ing GOP ef­forts to re­take Congress next year.

On suc­ces­sive days, Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day, Reps. John T. Doolittle (Calif.) and Rick Renzi (Ariz.) dis­closed FBI raids on their wives’ busi­nesses. The men pro­claimed their in­no­cence, but the raids ex­posed their le­gal jeop­ardy. The an­nounce­ments were only the most re­cent in a se­ries of de­vel­op­ments that have kept the fo­cus on the old eth­i­cal and le­gal clouds that helped chase the Repub­li­can Party from power on Capi­tol Hill.

Two other law­mak­ers face pos­si­ble ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tions amid al­le­ga­tions that they pres­sured a U.S. at­tor­ney in New Mex­ico to in­dict Democrats be­fore last year’s fall elec­tions.

Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Calif.), un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI for a se­ries of land deals, is now fac­ing Demo­cratic ads al­leg­ing that he lied about a land sale that he de­clined to pay taxes on.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) still faces FBI scru­tiny of his work as chair­man of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, and this month, his cam­paign fil­ings showed that he has racked up $892,951.69 in le­gal fees since July. And for the first time, Rep. Tim Mur­phy (RPa.) re­ported sig­nif­i­cant le­gal fees — $15,620.60 — in his cam­paign fil­ing this month, as he tries to stave off ac­cu­sa­tions that he used tax­payer-funded con­gres­sional staff and re­sources to do po­lit­i­cal work.

“Ev­ery­body’s kind of a lit­tle bit numb,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). “There’s this, ‘What else can hap­pen now?’ feel­ing go­ing around here.”

The ethics is­sue burst back into fo­cus with the FBI raids in­volv­ing Doolittle and Renzi.

Doolittle had been try­ing to re­tool his bat­tered im­age when he dis­closed that the FBI had raided his fam­ily’s North­ern Vir­ginia home, where his wife runs her busi­ness. Both he and his wife have been tied to con­victed lob­by­ist Jack Abramoff, and he has ad­mit­ted ob­tain­ing funds for a de­fense con­trac­tor linked to the bribery con­vic­tion of then-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cun­ning­ham (R-Calif). Un­der pres­sure from GOP lead­ers, Doolittle quickly gave up his cov­eted seat on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, while his at­tor­neys said he has done noth­ing wrong.

Renzi no­ti­fied House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) that fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors had raided the of­fices of Pa­triot In­sur­ance Agency, his wife’s busi­ness, in Sonoita, Ariz. The search was part of an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Renzi-drafted land-swap leg­is­la­tion that would have en­riched a po­lit­i­cal bene­fac­tor. Renzi stepped down from his seat on the sen­si­tive House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Intelligence “to avoid any un­nec­es­sary dis­trac­tions on the panel and its crit­i­cal work,” Boehner said.

“I view th­ese ac­tions as the first step in bring­ing out the truth,” Renzi said.

To be sure, Democrats have their own is­sues to con­tend with. An aide in the New Or­leans of­fice of Rep. William J. Jef­fer­son (D-La.) was sub­poe­naed last week to tes­tify be­fore a grand jury in­ves­ti­gat­ing cor­rup­tion and bribery al­le­ga­tions, sig­nal­ing that the in­quiry is still on­go­ing. Ear­lier this year, Rep. Alan B. Mol­lo­han (D-W.Va.), who chairs the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee that funds the de­part­ments of Com­merce and Jus­tice, was forced to re­cuse him­self from law en­force­ment fund­ing mat­ters be­cause he is un­der FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But, for the GOP, the spate of bad news over ethics has clouded its ef­forts to por­tray the new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity as in­ef­fec­tive, while it has helped Democrats stay on the po­lit­i­cal of­fen­sive. Ethics trou­bles loomed large last year in the Democrats’ sweep of Congress. Repub­li­cans lost seats in Florida, Texas, Penn­syl­va­nia, Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona, Ohio, North Carolina and Mon­tana, where eth­i­cal lapses were de­ci­sive. And Democrats will use the new ethics charges to re­mind vot­ers why they pushed out the Repub­li­cans, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chair­man of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

“It’s all a stark re­minder to vot­ers about why they don’t want to turn power back to a Repub­li­can Congress that be­trayed the pub­lic and used their ma­jor­ity for per­sonal fi­nan­cial gain and to re­ward spe­cial in­ter­ests,” he said.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the chair­man of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee, was more san­guine. The Democrats’ theme of “a cul­ture of cor­rup­tion” is un­likely to break through to vot­ers in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year with so much at stake, he said. And in­di­vid­ual cases com­ing into fo­cus in early 2007 will likely be re­solved by the fall of 2008. “There’s a long time be­tween now and the elec­tion,” he said.

But Cole con­ceded that ethics could be a fac­tor in a few in­di­vid­ual races. And with the GOP need­ing 17 seats to re­cap­ture the House, los­ing seats would in­crease the num­ber of in­cum­bent Democrats the GOP would have to de­feat.

The DCCC is in­ter­view­ing can­di­dates seek­ing to run against Renzi, who es­caped a chal­lenge last year from a high-profile Demo­crat but still won only 52 per­cent of the vote. For­mer mil­i­tary pilot Char­lie Brown, who held Doolittle to 49 per­cent in Novem­ber, has al­ready filed pa­pers for a re­match and has banked $132,000 in the first quar­ter for his run.

But Demo­cratic cam­paign ef­forts go be­yond the sub­jects of FBI raids. The DCCC has al­ready aired two ra­dio ads rais­ing ethics charges against Rep. Heather A. Wil­son (R-N.M.), who has ad­mit­ted call­ing now-fired U.S. At­tor­ney David C. Igle­sias be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tions to in­quire about an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of voter fraud. Wil­son, a peren­nial Demo­cratic tar­get, eked out a win in Novem­ber — by 861 votes.

“Con­gress­woman Wil­son’s call to David Igle­sias was en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate, and it’s a shame that na­tional Democrats have launched a base­less par­ti­san at­tack smear­ing her good name,” said En­rique Knell, a Wil­son spokesman.

Af­ter ob­tain­ing footage through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest, the DCCC has aired some of it show­ing Miller re­peat­edly plead­ing with city of­fi­cials in Mon­rovia, Calif., to buy 165 acres of his prop­erty. Miller made more than $10 mil­lion on the 2002 sale, but he shel­tered the prof­its from cap­i­tal-gains taxes by as­sert­ing that the sale was forced un­der the threat of em­i­nent do­main. Re­peated calls to Miller’s of­fice were not re­turned yes­ter­day.

And with other Repub­li­cans shelling out so much money to lawyers, Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives are sure more shoes will drop in in­ves­ti­ga­tions that started long be­fore their party took con­trol of Capi­tol Hill.

“It’ll only re­in­force why they voted for the Democrats in the first place,” Van Hollen said.


Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) stepped down from the House intelligence com­mit­tee af­ter a raid on his wife’s busi­ness.


Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) re­signed from the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee un­der pres­sure from GOP lead­ers af­ter he dis­closed that the FBI had raided his fam­ily’s North­ern Vir­ginia home, where his wife runs her busi­ness.

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