A typical weeknight reception in Washington — open bar, hors d’oeuvres, a media-legal-political-tinged crowd. Wait, what’s missing? Oh, that’s right — the congressmen.
“Ha. No,” said Melanie Sloan, host for the evening. “I don’t think they’d come.”
As executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week, Sloan is in the business of suing, investigating and filing complaints against the capital’s most sought-after party guests. Former reps Tom DeLay, John Murtha and Randy “Duke” Cunningham are among the group's more prominent targets.
Most recently, it’s the murky saga of Sen. Bob Menendez that has kept CREW in the news. The group forwarded the original tip to the FBI about the senator’s improper freebie trips to the Dominican Republic with a campaign contributor — though Sloan later expressed skepticism about the even more scandalous claims that hookers were involved. (One escort now says she was paid to fabricate the story.)
Messy stuff, really. Even elected officials who she says support CREW’s mission tend to keep a distance, Sloan said. “We can never have the party where we can say politicians X, Y and Z will be there, because tomorrow they may be in our sights.”
The cocktail party at Lincoln was highlighted by a video montage of Sloan in cable-news spots, delivering rapid-fire judgments of “most corrupt” members of Congress. (As a former federal prosecutor, the talking-head stuff comes naturally. “When you have to make a presentation to juries, you have to do it in a pithy way,” she told us.) And though the group is frequently accused of gunning for Republicans (co-founder Norm Eisen, the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, is a former Obama White House lawyer), Sloan told the room it’s a great source of pride that “we get criticism from every side. We get called ‘partisan’ by both sides.”
So how do you measure a good decade? Sloan sounded nostalgic recounting all the ethics charges CREW was the catalyst for, the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines. “For all of this,” she said, “the defense attorneys in the room can thank us later.”
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