GOP congressman: Abramoff a "partisan, conservative Republican activist"

Rep. John Doolittle says his colleagues are just keeping up appearances with ethics reform proposals.

Published January 24, 2006 5:05PM (EST)

Well, you can give him points for honesty.

At a time when his party and some in the press are still trying to argue that the Jack Abramoff scandal is a bipartisan affair, Rep. John Doolittle -- a California Republican said to be under investigation in the case -- says he always thought of Abramoff as "a friend" for one simple reason: "I liked him, frankly, because he was a partisan, conservative Republican activist."

As the Sacramento Bee reports, Doolittle made the comments during his first extended interview on the Abramoff case since he was implicated in it a year and a half ago. The eight-term congressman consented to talk with Tom Sullivan, a conservative radio talk show host on the Sacramento station that gave Rush Limbaugh his start, only after Sullivan offered to tape the interview in advance and let Doolittle kill it if he didn't like how it turned out.

As you might expect, the interview wasn't exactly probing. While Sullivan didn't stoop to praising his guest for his altruistic ways, as Chris Matthews did for Tom DeLay Monday, he did give him a platform for distancing himself from the confessed felon of a lobbyist. "I've probably had about a million dollars' worth of negative publicity here locally, not to mention across the United States, where someone has put my name out there saying I'm one of [the lawmakers under investigation]," Doolittle said. "But I don't believe that. I think the fact they haven't contacted me should be a pretty good indicator. If there's any truth to that, come investigate me. Come contact me, because I know what the truth is, and I'll come out with a clean record."

As the Bee reports, Doolittle's campaign committees received $4,000 from Abramoff himself and almost $140,000 more from his clients and associates. The Associated Press says that Doolittle used Abramoff's luxury skybox at the MCI Center in Washington without initially reporting it, and that his wife and his former chief of staff both worked for the lobbyist. The grand jury investigating the Abramoff case has subpoenaed records from Doolittle's wife's company, and at least one House Republican has said that Doolittle has some explaining to do, especially if he wants to hold onto his spot on House Republican leadership team.

In another sign that he has slipped off the talking points, Doolittle suggested that he was unimpressed with the calls for ethics reform. "Our leaders think we have to show that we're doing something," he said in the interview. "This is about appearance. Those ethics reforms that are being proposed in my opinion have almost no bearing on whatever happened in the Abramoff matter, and I'm not sure they're terribly wise things to do."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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