The FBI investigation into financial irregularities at the National Republican Congressional Committee was triggered when NRCC Audit Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (Texas) asked for an exit interview with the accounting firm that conducted the committee’s 2006 audit, according to a source briefed on the unfolding scandal.
Conaway had been seeking an audit of the committee’s books, and when former NRCC Treasurer Christopher Ward produced one, Conaway — a certified public accountant — insisted on doing an interview with the auditing firm.
After delays and more delays, it became clear that the exit interview was never going to happen and the accounting firm that supposedly conducted the audit was contacted. Officials at the firm, the name of which has not been disclosed, then confirmed to the NRCC that they had not conducted the audit and the letterhead that was used had been forged to look like it was theirs.
“Conaway and some other people said that these audits looked very, very professional,” said one GOP Member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, adding that nothing would have appeared out of order to someone who didn’t do finances for a living.
Ward is alleged to be at the center of an FBI investigation into what the NRCC has publicly described only as “financial irregularities.” Sources have stressed that there is no evidence at this point that money is missing or unaccounted for from NRCC accounts.
Sources familiar with NRCC operations said Friday that in the wake of the audit scandal the committee plans to adjust how it keeps its books and to put controls into place to prevent such problems from happening again.
One Republican insider familiar with the investigation said that, while there’s no evidence linking anyone currently at the NRCC to the scandal, all individuals in direct contact with the “irregularities” have been moved to other positions while the investigation is being completed.
A second GOP insider with knowledge of the investigation said all procedures relating to the NRCC’s accounting procedures are under review.
But this individual, echoing what Members of the House Republican Conference were told last week at a closed-door meeting, said no changes would be made pending the outcome of a forensic audit that is currently under way.
“There’s definitely closer attention being paid to everybody involved in accounting, and everyone at the NRCC is very much being watched,” the second GOP insider said.
The Member who attended last week’s GOP Conference meeting praised the way that NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), Rep. John Kline (Minn.) — management subcommittee chairman on the NRCC’s Executive Committee — and Conaway had handled the situation. Those three Members briefed the GOP Conference on Thursday, providing what little details they could about the investigation due to legal concerns.
“I think they’ve done everything by the book. I think they’ve done this in a very cautious manner,” the Member said.
The source said Republicans who knew Ward and had used his services were shocked to hear his name tied to the investigation.
“Everybody who I’ve talked to who knew this guy said he was a real upfront, laid-back kind of guy,” the Member said.
Ward did not return calls seeking comment.
But some Members and K Street insiders are privately grumbling about the way the NRCC has handled the matter.
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