Inquiry on Smith Vote Under Way

Posted June 18, 2004 at 6:39pm

A bipartisan investigative subcommittee that is looking into whether some House Republicans improperly pressured Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) during a Nov. 22, 2003, vote on Medicare reform has informed the ethics committee that it will miss the original July 4 deadline for filing a report on its probe, several sources close to the investigation said.

Reps. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) and Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who are heading a four-member panel charged with looking into the Smith case, have already interviewed the Michigan Republican and his staff, and have taken control of all documents in his office relating to the Medicare legislation. Smith is apparently cooperating with the investigation, the sources said.

Hulshof and Delahunt have also begun interviewing other lawmakers involved in the Smith case, although it is difficult to determine whom, if anyone, the probe is targeting so far.

Smith himself has never specified which Members allegedly offered to funnel $100,000 in campaign contributions from business groups to the campaign of his son, Brad Smith (R), if Nick Smith voted for the GOP’s Medicare prescription-drug bill. The elder Smith is retiring at the end of this year, and his son is running to replace him in Michigan’s 7th district.

Nick Smith has refused to comment on the investigation, and the ethics committee will not comment either.

But several sources familiar with the investigation said that Hulshof and Delahunt have told Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the chairman and ranking member on the ethics committee, that they will miss a July deadline for wrapping up the probe. It is unclear whether the investigative subcommittee will finish its report in time for the July 23 Congressional adjournment prior to the Democratic convention — although Hulshof and Delahunt are believed to be aiming toward that goal.

In a dramatic and much-commented-upon move, the House GOP leadership kept the hotly contested Medicare vote open for nearly three hours on Nov. 22 as it targeted Members willing to back a $400 billion-plus Medicare prescription drug bill. The bill eventually passed by a 220-215 margin, giving President Bush and the Republicans a major legislative win.

Smith, who voted “no” despite extraordinary lobbying efforts by the White House and his own leadership, said in a statement on his official Congressional Web site the next day that “because the leadership did not have the votes to prevail, this vote was held open for a record two-hours-and-51-minutes as bribes and special deals were offered to convince members to vote yes.”

Smith also claimed that after being personally lobbied by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and top administration officials, “other Members and groups made offers of extensive financial campaign support and endorsements for my son Brad, who is running for my seat. They also made threats of working against Brad if I voted no.”

In another official statement the following day, Smith said, “I got significant promises for help for [Brad Smith’s] campaign and threats they’d work against him if I voted no.” Smith did not name any Republicans at that time.

Smith later modified his earlier claims, telling a Michigan reporter that, “technically, in a legal description that I later reviewed on what a bribe is, probably it didn’t meet the legal description of a bribe.”

Lawmakers who attracted media attention following Smith’s allegations are now seeking to avoid any additional questions.

For instance, Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who allegedly taunted Smith after he voted, declines to say whether he has been interviewed by Hulshof and Delahunt. Other Members seen on the floor with Smith that night are also refusing to comment.