Now It’s a Scandal

New evidence that a House GOP leader offered a bribe.


Acting Deputy Attorney General James Comey told reporters yesterday that he had not seen the request for the investigation, but added whenever the department gets such a request, “we read it carefully and then make an evaluation. We will review the letter.”
Newsday, Dec. 5, 2003

Q: There have been some pretty serious allegations laid out by Rep. Nick Smith [R-Mich.] that he was offered $100,000 for his son’s campaign in exchange for his vote on the Medicare bill. I know Democrats have sent some letters to the Justice Department. Where are you in reviewing those letters? And is an investigation in the pipeline?Attorney General John Ashcroft: Well, we, obviously, frequently receive information in which individuals bring to our attention things that they think are appropriate for our attention, and we consider those very seriously.
Justice Department press conference, Dec. 11, 2003So far, the department says, no decision has been made on an investigation. “We are reviewing [the request] … to see what if any action would be taken,” a spokeswoman said late last week, declining to comment further.
Washington Post, Dec. 23, 2003

What does a guy have to do to get a congressional bribe investigated? Even making allowances for slow readers, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department is taking an awfully long time to decide whether to do anything about the (unsuccessful) attempt to bribe Rep. Smith.

Yes, bribery can be difficult to prove. But Smith’s allegation that somebody offered “$100,000-plus” for his son Brad’s campaign to succeed him in Congress—provided Smith the Elder voted “yes” on the Medicare drug bill—comes wrapped in a pretty bow. Smith told Kevin Vandenbroek of WKZO, “[T]he first offer was to give [Brad] $100,000-plus for his campaign and endorsement by national leadership.” To listen to it on tape, Mr. Attorney General, click here. In a separate interview, Smith told WKZO’s Vandenbroek that the source of the cash was “pharmaceutical business groups.” To listen to that on tape, click here. The Washington Post, which finally jumped on the story today, offers a third piece of important evidence narrowing the field of potential suspects:

According to two other congressmen who were present, Smith told [a group of 20 House members] that House Republican leaders[italics Chatterbox’s] had promised substantial financial and political support for his son’s campaign if Smith voted yes.

Until now, the question of whether Smith had specifically fingered the House Republican leadership has been a little bit foggy. But the Post has produced two witnesses. Now your next question, Mr. Attorney General, is going to be, “How on Earth am I supposed to get a Washington Post reporter to reveal his sources?” Dude, you don’t have to! One of them talked on the record! Read past the jump and you’ll see, plain as day, the following:

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.),who was present at the dinner, recalled Smith saying it was “people from leadership” who had offered the money. He said Smith did not say who it was, but he assumed it was someone who controlled a “large leadership PAC, who can raise a hundred thousand dollars by hosting a few fundraisers.” “I think something happened,” Gutknecht said. “If it happened, then somebody in the leadership is guilty of at least gross stupidity. … Whoever made that comment should resign.”

Rep. Gutknecht’s phone number is (202) 225-2472. If he’s not there, leave a message on his answering machine.

It may take a little sleuthing to find the second source, but odds are it’s Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., or Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., all of whom are quoted backing up Smith’s accusation that money was offered. (Chatterbox would start with Flake, who recalls Smith saying the money was to come from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The Post quotes a spokesman for NRCC Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds, R-N.Y., saying Reynolds made no such offer. Smith himself has further exonerated House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.)

The only difficult part to this investigation will be getting Smith himself to back up his accusation that money was offered. After talking about it for a few days, Smith clammed up (he never returned Chatterbox’s phone calls), and then issued a quite obviously untrue press release denying he’d been offered any money. (It’s a back-handed compliment to Smith that his inept attempt to bury this story suggests he lacks much experience at this sort of thing.) But telling whoppers to the public is perfectly legal; Smith surely knows that telling one to a government official conducting a criminal investigation can land you in jail. So really, Mr. Attorney General, this should be much easier for you than it’s been for the press. According to the Post, Smith’s position now is that “he will cooperate with any official inquiry but does not want to point fingers publicly.” Chatterbox takes that to mean that Smith will tell the truth if he absolutely has to.

The question, Mr. Attorney General, is whether you want to hear it. Given the now-likely involvement of somebody in the House Republican leadership, Chatterbox assumes the answer is no.

Medicare Bribe Archive:
Dec. 8, 2003: “A Drug-Company Bribe?”
Dec. 6, 2003: “Why Smith Can’t Recant
Dec. 5, 2003: “Nick Smith Recants”
Dec. 1, 2003: “Who Tried To Bribe Rep. Smith?”