Rep. Doolittle Gives Up Committee Seat

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 5:36 PM

Less than a week after the FBI raided the Northern Virginia home of his wife, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) gave up his coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee today amid concerns that he had used that post to advance the interest of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other allies.

"I understand how the most recent circumstances may lead some to question my tenure on the Appropriations Committee," the nine-term conservative wrote in a letter to House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "Therefore, I feel it may be in the best interest of the House that I take a temporary leave with seniority from this Committee until this matter can be resolved."

Boehner accepted the decision, saying it "is in the best interest of the House and the American people."

"John recognizes that if we are to succeed in restoring trust between the American people and their elected leaders, this action is necessary," Boehner said in a statement released by Doolittle.

Doolittle's wife, Julie, operates Sierra Dominion Financial Services Inc. out of the couple's home in Oakton. Since 2005, a Justice Department task force has been looking into payments made by Abramoff and other lobbyists to Doolittle's wife and the spouses of other lawmakers.

Julie Doolittle has denied wrongdoing.

Friday's raid of the couple's house came on the same day Doolittle's former legislative director, Kevin Ring, abruptly resigned as a lobbyist for Barnes & Thornburg. Ring had been an intermediary in Abramoff's hiring of Julie Doolittle's firm as a fundraiser for a charity the lobbyist had founded.

A Senate Indian Affairs Committee that investigated Abramoff's activities said that the GOP lobbyist paid Julie Doolittle about $67,000 between September 2002 and February 2004. William L. Stauffer Jr., Julie Doolittle's attorney, has told The Washington Post previously that Sierra Dominion was hired by Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's former firm, to provide "event planning, marketing and related services, as requested by Mr. Abramoff," for Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation and his Signatures restaurant. Abramoff frequently used the athletic foundation as a pass-through organization to run lobbying efforts and to pay for expenses, records show.

Julie Doolittle also was paid about $30,000 for bookkeeping work for a nonprofit firm set up by another lobbying group, the Alexander Strategy Group. The Washington Post reported last year that Alexander Strategy, a firm founded by Edwin Buckham, former chief of staff to Tom DeLay, set up the U.S. Korea-U.S. Exchange Council for the benefit of the Hanwha Group, a South Korean conglomerate. The council paid for luxury trips abroad for members of Congress.

Buckham and DeLay are also under scrutiny in Abramoff, according to lawyers and witnesses with knowledge of the probe.

Some of the lawmakers on the trips, including Doolittle, were in positions to help other Alexander Strategy clients. Doolittle, while serving on the appropriations committee, told The Post last year that from 2002 to 2005 he sponsored $37 million in spending-bill earmarks that went to a firm controlled by a key Alexander Strategy client.

The client, Brent R. Wilkes, is a target of the federal investigation stemming from the bribery case and guilty plea of former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). Doolittle has said he believed his trips were proper and unrelated to earmarks.

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