Making him the second sitting Member of Congress to currently face federal charges, the Justice Department on Friday indicted Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi (R) on 35 counts of extortion, money laundering and conspiracy relating to the lawmaker’s efforts to get the federal government to buy land from his business partner.
Fearing a damaging reprisal of the “culture of corruption” mantra that helped throw his party from the majority in the 2006 elections, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) all but called last week for Renzi to immediately resign. Renzi already has said he will not seek re-election in November, and he vacated his committee slots after news of the FBI raid of a family business in April. He is scheduled to be arraigned on March 6.
“I have made it clear that I will hold our Members to the highest standards of ethical conduct,” Boehner said Friday. “The charges contained in this indictment are completely unacceptable for a Member of Congress, and I strongly urge Rep. Renzi to seriously consider whether he can continue to effectively represent his constituents under these circumstances.”
Boehner said he expected to meet with Renzi to “discuss this situation” as soon as possible, which is likely to be when Congress returns this week.
“I stand with Leader Boehner and believe that he has taken the appropriate course of action,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) added Friday.
Renzi’s indictment also could affect the presidential race, as the Arizona Republican is one of 24 campaign co-chairs for presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
“I’m sorry. I feel for the family; as you know, he has 12 children,” McCain told reporters Friday, according to The Associated Press.
“But I don’t know enough of the details to make a judgment. These kinds of things are always very unfortunate. ... I rely on our Department of Justice and system of justice to make the right outcome.”
Now, Renzi becomes the second sitting lawmaker to come under federal prosecution. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was charged in June with 16 counts of bribery and extortion in relation to his business dealings in Africa. The judge in that case officially delayed the start of Jefferson’s trial last week after his attorneys appealed a ruling to dismiss the charges.
Several other Members — nine out of 11 of them Republicans — including Reps. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) are being examined by federal investigators.
Through attorneys Reid Weingarten and Kelly Kramer, Renzi staunchly denied any wrongdoing on Friday and questioned the timing of the indictment after the burial of Renzi’s father last Thursday, one day before the charges were lodged.
“We are disappointed that the Department of Justice would not allow a decent amount of time to pass to allow a son to mourn the passing of his father,” the attorneys stated.
“Congressman Renzi did nothing wrong. We will fight these charges until he is vindicated and his family’s name is restored.”
The attorneys also bashed the Justice Department for its handling of the probe, saying that they feared the department may have been “influenced by political considerations.”