Republicans Quiet on Ryan — for Now

Posted June 22, 2004 at 6:51pm

One day after the explosive custody records of Illinois Senate candidate Jack Ryan were made public, Republicans from Chicago to Washington, D.C., were taking a wait-and-see approach — at least publicly — Tuesday as they assessed the political ramifications of the potentially catastrophic allegations.

But while the Illinois Congressional delegation remained largely silent on Ryan’s eventual fate, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (R-Va.) said he and the committee are standing firmly behind the party’s nominee.

“We fully support Jack Ryan,” Allen said, speaking to reporters just before the GOP’s policy lunch Tuesday. “Jack Ryan has the ability to forcefully articulate issues and ideas that matter, such as national security and better job opportunities for people as well as education for our children. His ex-wife Jeri has said he’s a good man and a loving father.”

Allen’s statement was the strongest made on Ryan’s behalf Tuesday, as Capitol Hill buzzed about allegations Ryan forced then-wife Jeri Ryan to go to “explicit sex clubs” he sought out in an effort to have sex with her while others watched.

Ryan, a Harvard-educated former Goldman Sachs executive turned inner-city school teacher, won a crowded GOP primary in March with 36 percent of the vote.

In court documents unsealed Monday, Jeri Ryan, an actress known for television roles on “Star Trek Voyager” and “Boston Public,” alleged that during their marriage her husband planned romantic weekend getaways that included attempts to visit sex clubs in New York, New Orleans and Paris.

“[Jack Ryan] took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to … It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. [He] wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching.”

Jeri Ryan made the accusations in a statement dated June 9, 2000, during bitter child custody proceedings following the couple’s 1999 divorce. The court proceedings, released by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge who had previously ordered them sealed, were separate from the couple’s divorce file, which was long ago made public by Ryan’s campaign.

Ryan said Monday that he stood by the statement he made during the 2000 custody battle, in which he called the accusations “ridiculous” and admits only to wandering into an avant garde nightclub in Paris. The club, he said in his statement, “was more than either one of us felt comfortable with.”

Jeri Ryan is now supporting her ex-husband’s Senate bid and backed his earlier efforts to keep the custody documents out of public view.

Although Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) called on Ryan to bow out of the race shortly after the allegations were revealed late Monday, most of the Illinois GOP delegation remained mum.

While Rep. John Shimkus (R) admitted the situation is “not helpful,” he also said the majority of the delegation had agreed to refrain from public comment “until we have to get engaged.”

“We all decided that we would not just jump on the feeding frenzy until things calm down,” Shimkus said. “And I’m just going to abide by that agreement.”

Apparently that message didn’t get to everyone.

Stepping off the House floor, Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.), the dean of the Illinois delegation and the longest-serving Republican in the House, said he was unaware that the custody documents had been unsealed and of the buzz the allegations had created.

When showed a copy of what had been released, Crane appeared mystified.

“If these all are correct I think he’s best to head to the sunset,” Crane said. “I mean this is kind of bizarre. I never heard of this sort of thing.”

“It’s disturbing to an extreme,” Crane ultimately deduced, adding that he’d withhold any further judgement until “further documentation.”

“If that was a matter of public record, I can’t believe anyone would consider running for public office.”

Most all of the 10 Members of the state’s GOP delegation huddled on the House floor during votes Tuesday afternoon with a top aide to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

A Hastert spokesman said the Speaker had not talked to Ryan since the allegations were made public and that he would have no comment for the moment.

While Republicans in Washington were split on how to handle the Ryan situation, party operatives in Illinois were also struggling to grasp the implications of the revelations and set a course of action for dealing with them.

Sources said that Hastert had conversations Tuesday with state GOP chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka and other Republicans in the state on how the party should proceed. State Republican leaders would be able to name a replacement for the November ballot if Ryan were to drop out of the race.

Among the most prominent names floated as replacements are former Gov. Jim Edgar, a popular two-term executive and well-respected moderate, state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger and paper company executive Andy McKenna. McKenna and Rauschenberger placed second and third, respectively, to Ryan in the primary.

But for now, the ballot succession talk is mostly muted.

“I think there’s definitely a wait and see approach right now, of how does this go,” said one Illinois GOP operative. “Does it rectify itself or does he just implode by the end of the week?”

Sources said Edgar and Topinka, also the state treasurer, felt especially betrayed by Ryan’s perceived dishonesty with them before the allegations were released.

Topinka said after Ryan won the primary that she had asked the nominee if there was anything in the documents that would be embarrassing. At the time she said he told her no.

As recently as this weekend, Ryan called Edgar to assure him that the release of the documents would not be troublesome for the campaign. Edgar then defended Ryan at a press conference Monday, during which the former Governor was named the Illinois chairman of President Bush’s re-election campaign.

“It’s not so much what’s in the files, it’s the fact that he lied about it,” said the Illinois GOP strategist. “That’s the real cause for concern. Here we are in the land of honest Abe, the first Republican president, and we’ve got a candidate who apparently has an inability to tell the truth. That’s the part that the voters aren’t going to like and they’re going to use as their benchmark as to whether or not they’re going to vote for him.”

“I think people have come to realize that politicians aren’t perfect people. And they’re willing to forgive a lot but they want honesty and they don’t want to be lied to and I think that what’s going to hurt him is credibility.”

A source close to Ryan said the wait-and-see approach was fine with the campaign. “Jack’s got to prove that he can get past this,” the source said.

“The fact of the matter is Jack Ryan isn’t going anywhere. He’s staying in the race,” said Chris LaCivita, a consultant to the Ryan campaign. “Republicans in Illinois have a responsibility to rally behind their party nominee. They’re accusations that were denied. He was awarded joint custody. He is focused on running a campaign that is based on the issues and deals with the contrasts between he and Barack Obama. And Republicans who choose to take pot shots at Jack publicly do nothing but make it easier for the state of Illinois to be represented by one of the most liberal politicians ever to hold elected office.”