Renzi Drops 2 Panels

Rep. Also Exits NRCC Program

Posted April 24, 2007 at 6:42pm

In another sign that Rep. Rick Renzi (R) is facing a political crisis, the Arizonan removed himself Tuesday from his two remaining committee seats as well as a program run by the National Republican Congressional Committee used to raise money for incumbents in competitive districts.

Renzi is under federal investigation, and a family business owned by his wife was raided Thursday by the FBI. While it has been known since at least October 2006 that Renzi was under a preliminary investigation, few details of the probe had been made public.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Saturday that Renzi is facing scrutiny for allegedly trying to engineer a federal land swap by pressuring a local mining business, Resolution Copper, to buy land owned by a friend and business associate, James Sandlin.

In a statement Tuesday, Renzi denied any wrongdoing. “For several weeks, I have been the subject of leaked stories, conjecture, and false attacks about a land exchange. None of them bear any resemblance to the truth,” he said.

Last week, Renzi approached Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ariz.) to inform him of the raid and recuse himself from his seat on the Intelligence Committee. Renzi further removed himself Tuesday from his seats on the Financial Services and Natural Resources committees. The latter has direct jurisdiction over federal land exchanges.

Additionally, Renzi said a Democrat would reintroduce a bill regarding the land swap.

“So that no one can question the motivation behind the land exchange, which I and other leaders from both parties have argued is critical to the future of Arizona, I have spoken to [Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.)] who will introduce a new version of the Resolution Copper land exchange,” Renzi said. “In addition, I will take a leave of absence from all my committee assignments. I will continue to focus on important district work and issues critical to my constituents.”

In a statement Tuesday evening, Pastor said: “I did meet with Congressman Renzi and he spoke to me about the importance of the bill. … He said it’s a bill that should not go away. I said I’d look at it. And if I do introduce something, it would be a new version of the bill, obviously. But it is not anything I will be doing immediately.”

GOP aides said Tuesday that Renzi also informed Boehner that he would not take part in the NRCC’s Regaining Our Majority Program. That decision prompted speculation that Renzi was considering leaving the House or not seeking re-election. His vast Arizona district is competitive and Democrats intend to target the seat in the next cycle.

One knowledgeable Republican lawmaker said potential candidates already are making it known they would consider running for the seat. The lawmaker added that there is growing fatigue in the House Republican Conference for Members with legal and ethical problems.

So far, no Member or GOP leader has defended Renzi against the allegations, but they have commended his decision to inform his colleagues promptly of the raid and to remove himself from his committee slots.

“I appreciate the decision Rick has made and know it was a difficult one,” Boehner said in a statement. “I know it was made with the best interests of the House, his constituents, and his family in mind, and I look forward to seeing this matter resolved swiftly.”

Roll Call reported Monday that an Arizona state political operative named former state Senate President Ken Bennett as a strong potential replacement for Renzi.

Without support from the NRCC or a willingness from his colleagues to contribute to his campaign coffers, Renzi could be hard-pressed in a tough electoral fight. However, Renzi is a wealthy former businessman and has personally loaned considerable amounts to his campaigns.