By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008
Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), under criminal investigation along with his wife concerning their dealings with Jack Abramoff and other lobbyists, announced yesterday that he will not seek reelection.
Doolittle, a member of the leadership team during Tom DeLay's tenure as majority leader, narrowly beat back a Democratic challenger in his heavily Republican district 14 months ago. He bowed to months of pressure from House GOP leaders in deciding not to seek a 10th term this year.
"My wife, Julie, and I have made this decision after much prayer and deliberation," Doolittle said in a written statement. "It was not my initial intent to retire, and I fully expected and planned to run again right up until very recently." Doolittle made no mention of the Justice Department investigation, explaining only that "we were ready for a change after spending almost our entire married lives with me in public service."
The Doolittles have been under investigation since 2004 in connection with luxury trips, campaign contributions and employment for Julie Doolittle provided by Abramoff and other lobbyists.
David Barger, the congressman's attorney, said that the investigation continues, but that "there have been no legal developments that prompted his retirement."
Abramoff had a social relationship with Doolittle and put Julie Doolittle's event planning firm on his lobbying firm's payroll, paying her $66,000 from fees he collected from one of his clients, the Agua Caliente tribe in Southern California. Julie Doolittle also was hired for bookkeeping services for the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, founded by Edwin A. Buckham, DeLay's former chief of staff. That organization subsidized a $28,000 trip to South Korea by DeLay and his wife, and a luxury trip to a Malaysian beach resort for Doolittle and other members of Congress.
The FBI raided the Doolittles' Virginia home last April. Under pressure from Republican House leaders, he resigned from all his committee assignments, including his influential post on the Appropriations Committee.
While the investigation of Doolittle and other current and former members of Congress continues, anxious GOP officials are looking to clear the way for other Republicans to compete against Sacramento area Democrat Charlie Brown, who has been building a war chest for a rematch with Doolittle. Candidates for the race file as early as next month.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) met with Doolittle shortly before the Christmas break and issued a statement yesterday saying, "John's decision was made in the best interests of his family, his constituents, and the House." Without referring to the probe, he wished the Doolittles well "as they work to bring this difficult process to a resolution."
Doolittle is locked in a court battle with the Justice Department over a grand jury subpoena seeking what his lawyer has described as 11 years of records from his congressional office. The litigation, which is under seal because it involves a grand jury investigation, involves questions of how far the Constitution goes in protecting members of Congress from legal action by the executive branch.
Doolittle's decision to retire makes him the fifth Republican member of Congress to fall victim to the Abramoff corruption scandal. Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) was convicted; others who lost their seats or resigned include DeLay (Tex.), Richard W. Pombo (Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (Mont.).
Julie Doolittle also served as a paid fundraiser for her husband's campaigns, an unusual setup that fueled voter ire during the last election. The congressman said he would hire an outside fundraiser a year ago, announcing: "I recognize that change is needed for me to rebuild the trust and support of my constituents."
Staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this report.