FBI Examining Smith Medicare Allegations

Posted February 25, 2004 at 6:50pm

Three months after a controversial floor vote propelled Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) into the national spotlight, FBI agents are looking into alleged attempts to sway the Michigan Republican during a tense Nov. 22 showdown on Medicare reform, according to sources.

Smith declined to comment on whether he has had discussions with the FBI, and it is unclear if agents have actually interviewed him yet. But sources said Smith has indicated he will not seek protection under the Speech or Debate Clause, which restricts lawmakers from being questioned about legislative activity.

The injection of federal law enforcement officials into the mix raises the stakes in a controversy that has simmered since the late November vote on adding a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program.

Smith, who is retiring at the end of this session, has already met with the top Republican and Democrat on the House ethics committee, Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), to discuss the events surrounding the Nov. 22 vote.

The ethics committee met Wednesday for the first time since October and the Smith case was expected to be discussed. Top House Democrats have insisted that the ethics committee must begin a full investigation of the Smith allegations on its own or they will file a formal complaint requiring the panel to do so.

If Democrats were to do that, it would end a seven-year ethics truce between the two parties and could ignite a larger ethics war if Republicans retaliate.

In the days following the November vote, Smith claimed he was offered $100,000 in campaign contributions for his son, Bradley Smith, who is seeking to succeed him in the House. Smith has changed his position somewhat now, although he continues to insist that he was offered “significant financial support” for Bradley Smith if he switched his vote.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) left open the Medicare vote for nearly three hours as top Republicans and White House officials tried frantically to convince GOP lawmakers to support the $400 billion Medicare prescription drug package, a major legislative initiative for President Bush and the party leadership.

The day after the vote, Smith, who opposed the bill despite extensive lobbying from Hastert and other top Republicans, charged that unnamed party leaders used “bribes and special deals” to convince wayward GOP lawmakers to support the proposal. The Medicare bill passed by a 220-215 vote.

Just over a week later, Smith told a Michigan radio station that he was offered $100,000 for Brad Smith’s campaign if he voted “yes,” and syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported that Smith was taunted by other Members, including Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), after casting his no vote.

These Members allegedly told Smith that his son would never make it to Congress because of his vote on the Medicare bill.

Several weeks ago, Smith modified his story again, telling The Detroit News: “Nobody mentioned any dollar amount — Members of Congress are really too smart to come up to you on the floor and say, ‘We’ll give you so many dollars for this.’”