FBI Investigates Pennsylvania Republican Weldon
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We're listening this morning to several Republican candidates running in a difficult year. Earlier this week, we heard on this program about Republicans who say they're getting less and less support from the national party. Today we'll report on a candidate who says he is getting too much attention from the FBI. The Justice Department is asking if Republican Congressman Curt Weldon helped his daughter obtain contracts for her lobbying firm.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: It was a busy afternoon at the Ridley Township Municipal Building Wednesday. A crowd of journalists had staked out a packed meeting room where government officials were holding a public hearing about flight paths to the Philadelphia International Airport. The reporters weren't interested in aviation. They were there for Congressman Weldon, who agreed to appear at the hearing before the FBI raided his daughter's home and office on Monday. Weldon, who has denied any wrongdoing, intimated all this might be part of a plot.
Representative CURT WELDON (Republican, Pennsylvania): I had a former FBI agent call me last night and he has confirmed the name of a person who works on my opponent's campaign who was bragging that three weeks ago they knew this was going to come down. Now that to me is absolutely outrageous. If that occurred, it means that someone in the Justice Department was coordinating whatever was happening with a political campaign.
NAYLOR: Pressed on whether the Republican-led Justice Department would coordinate an investigation with a Democratic congressional candidate, Weldon said no.
Rep. WELDON: I'm not saying that. And you all know that bureaucrats don't change with presidential leadership at the top. You know that. I mean, come on. This obviously did not start at the top. It obviously came from the bureaucracy.
NAYLOR: Weldon has long been known in Congress for his sometimes unorthodox views. He continues to insist there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and says the 9/11 Commission ignored evidence that a secret Pentagon program had identified some of the 9/11 conspirators well before the attacks. Still, voters have sent Weldon to Congress 10 times. Now, though, he acknowledges he has a difficult job.
Rep. WELDON: I have to rely on their support for me in the past and their knowledge that I would not do anything to betray their trust. It's very difficult, believe me.
NAYLOR: For some Weldon supporters, it's already too late. Richard K. Hume(ph) is among the small nod of demonstrators outside the municipal building where Weldon appeared. They carry posters with two red foam hands attached, illustrating their belief that Weldon has been caught red-handed. Hume says he even campaigned for Weldon in the past, but no longer.
Mr. RICHARD K. HUME (Activist): If you go to Washington, you're telling the constituents, I'm here for you, you can trust me. You can trust me to do what's right for you. He betrayed that trust, and I can't support him.
NAYLOR: Still, Weldon has his supporters, among them Karen Clark(ph), who is suspicious the investigation was announced just three weeks before the election.
KAREN CLARK (Weldon Supporter): All politicians do things. I think the timing is very apropos because of the elections. Anybody who's in politics pulls strings and does things. He's no different than anybody else. No better, no worse.
NAYLOR: Joe Sestak has the most to gain from Weldon's troubles. The Democratic nominee is a retired vice-admiral and defense adviser to President Clinton. He was already in a dead heat with Weldon, according to an independent poll. Sestak says Weldon's problems are another indication that the district is ready for change
Mr. JOE SESTAK: (Democratic Candidate for Congress, Pennsylvania): I find the reports troubling. Our constituents in this district have already moved, we're already there to say enough's enough. America is better than this, George Bush and Curt Weldon. We need a different direction.
NAYLOR: Sestak calls the war in Iraq a tragic mistake and says Weldon hasn't focused on the district's needs. With that investigation swirling around him and his family, Weldon may find it difficult to focus on much at all.
Brian Naylor, NPR News.