House Says Earmark Merits Criminal Probe

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008

The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to request a federal criminal investigation of changes to a $10 million earmark in 2005, after the backer of the special project, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) took to the House floor to defend his actions and warn colleagues that they were heading down "a slippery, slippery road."

The Senate last month inserted the unprecedented request for an investigation into a larger measure that corrects errors in the massive highway and transportation law approved by Congress in 2005. The resolution asks the Justice Department to look into the circumstances surrounding the $10 million expenditure for a highway interchange in Florida backed by Young, the former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Young accused the Senate of meddling in House affairs, but in the end, he consented to the investigation.

"I have been the subject of much innuendo concerning my intent and motivation with this project. These accusations have little, if any, connection with what actually occurred," Young told his colleagues. "If this body determines to pursue an investigation, so be it. Let's clear this up once and for all."

He then voted for the bill.

The veteran lawmaker acknowledged last month that he requested the earmark, and an aide conceded that his staff changed its language after both the House and Senate had voted on a highway funding bill that included the measure. But Young denied that he pushed the provision as a result of receiving $40,000 in campaign donations from developers who owned 4,000 acres of land next to the proposed interchange on Interstate 75 just east of Naples, Fla.

Young defended the merits of the project strenuously, but Democrats and Republicans have said no substantive changes should ever be made to a bill after its final passage.

A county planning board for the Naples area does not support the proposed interchange and has rejected the $10 million three times. With President Bush's expected signature on the new bill, Washington would allow Lee County officials to spend the money on general highway improvements instead of the interchange.

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