Doolittle pays lawyer to talk to Justice Department in Abramoff probe
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON ” Republican Rep. John Doolittle of California paid an attorney more than $38,000 in recent months to talk to the Justice Department in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying investigation, new campaign finance reports show.
A spokeswoman said the money was spent after Doolittle asked his attorney, David Barger, to contact the Justice Department “to further express the congressman’s willingness to be helpful and satisfy the Justice Department that the congressman has done nothing wrong.”
In a statement, spokeswoman Laura Blackann said Doolittle has not been contacted by prosecutors in the ongoing congressional corruption probe stemming from the conviction of GOP lobbyist Abramoff. Doolittle “has no reason to believe that he is the target of an investigation,” she said.
The payments to Barger’s Virginia law firm, Williams Mullen, show up in Doolittle’s third-quarter Federal Election Commission fundraising report, filed Sunday.
Doolittle, a conservative eight-term incumbent and member of the House GOP leadership, has numerous ties to Abramoff, whom he has described as a good friend. Doolittle accepted campaign cash from Abramoff, helped his tribal clients in dealings with the Interior Department, and helped the lobbyist win a contract from the Northern Mariana Islands by endorsing a sympathetic island politician.
Doolittle’s wife, Julie Doolittle, was paid a retainer by Abramoff for event planning work from 2002 to 2004.
The ties between Doolittle and Abramoff have caught the interest of government prosecutors. More than two years ago Julie Doolittle was subpoenaed for documents relating to the probe.
Doolittle has denied any wrongdoing and refused to get rid of the $14,000 in campaign donations he got from Abramoff, who is cooperating with the government.
Nonetheless in January, shortly after Abramoff pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion, Doolittle hired Barger to advise him in the matter. At the time Barger was paid a $10,000 retainer, and earlier this year Doolittle reported paying his firm an additional $1,274.
The new campaign finance report, covering July 1-Sept. 30, shows four separate payments to Williams Mullen totaling $38,378.48. They are labeled only “legal fees.”
In her statement, Blackann noted that Doolittle wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales earlier this year offering his cooperation. Subsequently he asked Barger to contact the department.
“The congressman’s attorney has had several conversations with the Justice Department which we believe have been helpful toward clearing the congressman’s name,” Blackann’s statement said. She said the parties have agreed to keep the talks confidential.
The campaign finance report also shows Doolittle paying $13,000 in legal fees to a second law firm, Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP, that he has used regularly for years.
Doolittle is favored to win re-election in his heavily Republican far Northern California district but is facing a spirited challenge from Democrat Charlie Brown, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has sought to make an issue of Doolittle’s ties to Abramoff.
Doolittle has also generated controversy by paying his wife Julie Doolittle for doing his fundraising. He pays her a 15-percent commission on each sum she raises, rather than the flat fee recommended by some industry professionals. He reported paying her $6,200 in the most recent quarter.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources this weekend, said “a federal task force that includes a dozen Justice Department prosecutors” is investigating Abramoff’s dealings with congressional offices, including those of Doolittle and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).
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