The man once known in political circles as a tea party whisperer for his role on the GOP presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has pleaded guilty to making false statements.
Brett O'Donnell faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the one-count charge related to his role as a communications consultant for former Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. Broun left Congress in January with an open probe into allegations he paid O'Donnell more than $43,000 in taxpayer dollars for campaign advice in his failed bid to win retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss ’ seat. Office of Congressional Ethics investigators began probing O'Donnell's ties to Broun in March 2014. Federal laws and House rules prohibit members from using their official funds for campaign purposes.
The Sept. 3 plea states O'Donnell believed if he refused to supply campaign consulting services to the congressman, he would lose the month-to-month contractual agreement with the office. When he traveled to Africa to do charitable work, O'Donnell was expected to send an associate to fill in during debate preparations.
"Since our debate consultant actually abandoned us on our first debate for a bunch of Ethiopians who don't pay him, I may need to send you to Adel this weekend if you are able to go," Broun's chief of staff wrote in a Jan. 14, 2014, email to the office's communication's director, copying O'Donnell, according to the plea.
When allegations later surfaced about O'Donnell doing campaign duties on taxpayers' dime, the chief of staff told O'Donnell, "Now remember your role with the campaign was as a volunteer." The document also states that Broun's chief of staff told O'Donnell that OCE could go "f@@k themselves" and encouraged him to lie.
During his OCE interview, O'Donnell "knowingly and intentionally" made several false statements to conceal the nature and scope of his campaign coaching. He admitted to the OCE he performed campaign activities, "but I didn't think my payment expected those duties of me."
The court documents do not identify Broun or his chief of staff, described as "Congressman A" and "Person A" in the Sept. 3 guilty plea, but the details align with the OCE's findings. David Bowser, who transitioned to the office of Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif., after Broun left, did not respond to request for comment.
The OCE did not respond to requests for comment about the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section prosecution of O'Donnell based on his false statements to the OCE during their investigation.
O'Donnell, who was released on personal recognizance, also did not respond to requests for comment. He will be sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia at a later date, and has agreed to cooperate with the government as part of the plea deal.
The Virginia-based consultant also previously worked for Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign and on debate prep for President George W. Bush in 2004.
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