Scandals Stain Republican Representatives
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Scandals contributed to the Republicans losing control of Congress last fall, and scandals keep dogging them now. In the past two weeks, the FBI has carried out search warrants affecting two House Republicans and a third lawmaker was implicated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
NPR's Peter Overby reports on how House Republican leaders are dealing with the allegations of corruption.
PETER OVERBY: In executing one of the search warrants, the FBI took business records belonging to Julie Doolittle. She and her husband, California Congressman John Doolittle, both have ties to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and both Doolittles long ago retained lawyers.
This week, the congressman gave an interview to Tom Sullivan, a sympathetic radio host, on KFBK in Sacramento. Doolittle had one word for what's going on.
Representative JOHN DOOLITTLE (Republican, California): Surreal. I would never in a million years have ever imagined that Julie and I would be where we are right now.
OVERBY: After barely winning reelection last year, in what's normally a safe Republican district, Doolittle said he thinks he's still planning to run again.
Rep. DOOLITTLE: However it's - I really think we're going to have to see what happens in the remainder of this year. I understand that in order, as a practical matter, to run again, I'm going to need to have this question resolved that hangs over my head.
OVERBY: A few days after the Doolittle search warrant, the FBI searched the insurance firm of Roberta Renzi, the wife of Arizona Republican Rick Renzi. Since last year, prosecutors have been looking at a land deal involving Renzi and one of his campaign donors. The news broke just before the election and a Renzi aide has said he called the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton about it.
Charlton is one of the U.S. attorneys later fired by the Justice Department in what Democrats call, a political purge. Congressman Renzi has denied any wrongdoing and denied rumors that he is about to resign from Congress. His office didn't respond to telephone and e-mail requests from NPR.
While Doolittle and Renzi wait for the next moves of the federal prosecutors, they've already had to give up their House committee assignments, at least temporarily. That's a new standard for House Republicans, one established by their new leader, John Boehner, after the election. He wrote to colleagues the, quote, "clear likelihood of serious transgressions," unquote, will cost members their committee posts.
One congressman who may be in danger of losing his seat on three committees is Tom Feeney of Florida. This week, a former House Transportation Committee staffer pleaded guilty in the Abramoff case. He admitted accepting, among other things, the illegal gift of a golf junket to Scotland, a trip that Feeney was also on. Feeney says the Justice Department has asked him for more information.
Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood says a strict policy like Boehner's should have been in place years ago.
Representative RAY LaHOOD (Republican, Illinois): If our previous leadership had done this when Duke Cunningham was involved, when Tom DeLay was involved, perhaps we wouldn't have had the perception of - on the part of the American people that the Republican Party in the House was really turning a blind's eye. We're not going to do that anymore.
OVERBY: Cunningham is in prison after taking millions of dollars in bribes. DeLay is awaiting trial in Texas on charges of laundering campaign money. LaHood didn't even mentioned Bob Ney who's in prison for his dealings with Abramoff, or former Congressman Mark Foley who spent $200,000 of his old campaign funds this year to defend himself after sending sexually explicit messages to House pages.
Political scientist John Pitney, a longtime watcher of congressional Republicans, says he is not surprised that GOP scandals are still popping up.
Mr. JOHN PITNEY (Political Scientist): This is the hangover of the 12 years in the majority.
OVERBY: He says some of the new cases might fizzle.
Mr. PITNEY: But on other cases, we may have members doing a perpwalk.
OVERBY: And that's an event that Democrats fervently hope for to increase their odds of staying in the majority.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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