FBI Ups Heat on Doolittle

Attorney: Wife Target of Raid

Posted April 18, 2007 at 6:48pm

The FBI raided the Virginia home of Rep. John Doolittle and his wife on Friday, though the Congressman’s lawyer contended the raid was focused on Julie Doolittle’s fundraising records rather than any of the California Republican lawmaker’s own activities.

The Justice Department has been investigating disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s ties to Julie Doolittle, and federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records related to her fundraising firm, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions.

“There was a search warrant executed at the Congressman and his wife’s house on Friday in Oakton, Va., the focus of which was Sierra Dominion records, not the Congressman,” said Doolittle attorney William Barger of the Virginia-based firm Williams and Mullen.

“The Congressman continues to be supportive of his wife and we’re hopeful that the truth will win out in the end.”

On Wednesday evening, Doolittle issued a statement standing behind his wife.

“My wife has been cooperating with the FBI and the Justice Department for almost three years and that cooperation is going to continue in the future,” Doolittle said.

“I support my wife 100 percent and fully expect that the truth will prevail.”

According to Congressional sources, news of the raid began to creep through leadership offices Wednesday afternoon, despite the fact that it had taken place days earlier. It does not appear that Doolittle made any attempt to personally inform House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) of the event. Doolittle has been on the Hill all week and voted on the floor Wednesday.

A spokesman for Boehner declined to comment on the raid because the office had no first-hand knowledge of the event. It also pertained to a spouse, not a sitting Member.

Sources said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) was informed of the raid Wednesday, but it was unclear if he has spoken directly with Doolittle.

A Cole spokeswoman declined to comment.

“We’re still determining the facts,” said spokeswoman Julie Shutley.

The news could present a political problem for Boehner and Cole, because the two leaders have been particularly forceful in sending the message to their colleagues that ethical and legal scrutiny will not be tolerated in the new minority. Republicans lost in 2006 due, in part, to the relentless stream of scandals coming from their side of the aisle in the 109th Congress.

“It’s difficult to say what they’ll do about Doolittle because this appears to be all about his wife,” said one GOP Congressional source. “He’s got problems, but what is the threshold?”

Another GOP aide said there was no indication that Doolittle would leave the House. “There’s no talk of resignation,” the aide said.

The California Republican barely won re-election in 2006 in a solidly conservative district largely due to the investigation and a concentrated effort by Democrats to defeat him. If Doolittle is on the ballot in 2008, he will likely be targeted again.

But in a preview of how Democrats are likely to leap on the development, Doolittle’s 2006 foe, Charlie Brown — who is running again in 2008 after losing to by 3 points last year — released a statement about the raid.

“This is a sad day for the people of the 4th district, for our Congress, and our country,” Brown declared. “It is my sincere hope that the ongoing investigation will bring the era of corruption and scandal ridden politics to a close.”

The FBI raid came on the same day that Kevin Ring, a former Doolittle staffer and lobbying colleague of Abramoff’s at Greenberg Traurig, abruptly resigned from a top Washington lobbying firm.

But the raid suggests a widening of the long-running Abramoff probe that has already netted nine people, including ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), several Congressional aides and two senior Bush administration officials.

Abramoff is serving a five-and-a-half-year sentence in a minimum security prison in Cumberland, Md., for his role in fraudulently purchasing a Florida cruise line.

Prosecutors recently asked for a delay until June 2 in sentencing for crimes relating to a Washington, D.C., probe into bribery, tax evasion and fraud. They said Abramoff was providing “substantial assistance” to prosecutors in the case.

Both John and Julie Doolittle have a number of connections to the disgraced lobbyist.

The Congressman was one of the top recipients of campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients, receiving about $130,000 in federal and nonfederal funds for his various political action committees. He refused to return the money or donate it to charity as the bulk of other lawmakers did.

Doolittle also wrote letters on behalf of legislation that would favor some of Abramoff’s tribal clients.

Abramoff’s ties to Julie Doolittle were even stronger. Earning her approximately $67,000, Abramoff’s lobbying firm continued to keep Sierra Dominion on a $5,000-a-month retainer even after a charity event she was originally hired for was long canceled, according to a report by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Some of the fees coincided in timing with actions taken by Rep. Doolittle on behalf of Abramoff’s tribal clients.

In a controversial move, Rep. Doolittle was using his wife’s company as a fundraising consultant, paying it a 15 percent commission for all contributions it raised for his campaign committee and leadership political action committee, Superior California. After narrowly winning re-election, Doolittle announced early this year that the unusual arrangement would stop.

Julie Doolittle’s only other clients were Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff’s old lobbying firm; Abramoff’s former restaurant, Signatures; and the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, which was created by Ed Buckham, the former chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

In turn, some of the largest donors to Superior California were clients of Abramoff and Buckham. Furthermore, from 2002 to 2004, Rep. Doolittle helped secure $37 million in defense contracts for one of Buckham’s largest clients, PerfectWave, a defense contractor owned by Brent Wilkes. Wilkes was indicted in February by a California grand jury in connection with the probe of jailed ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.).

Paul Singer contributed to this story.