Across the River and Up a Creek

Rep. Vito Fossella, not having the alphabet soup.
Rep. Vito Fossella, not having the alphabet soup. (By Craig Ruttle -- Associated Press)
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By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, May 8, 2008

The burning question on Capitol Hill this week: Is Vito finito?

The clock is ticking on Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) -- or "Vino" Fossella, as the New York tabloids have taken to calling him -- who is battling not just drunken-driving charges but more scandalous allegations that could damage his prospects in the November elections.

Some GOP political insiders say Fossella, whose blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit when he was arrested at 12:15 a.m. May 1, stands little chance of running for reelection in what has quickly become a hotly contested seat for embattled Republicans. Democrats agree.

Fossella showed up for a full day of votes Tuesday but was not in the House yesterday.

The Staten Island congressman was stopped for running a red light and charged with driving while intoxicated in Alexandria, about three miles from the home of a woman who, according to the New York Daily News, picked him up from the police station seven hours after his arrest. Fossella faces up to five days in jail if convicted.

According to the criminal complaint filed with the arrest warrant, the congressman was so drunk he couldn't accurately recite the alphabet from the letters "D" through "T."

According to the complaint, he said, "D, E, F, H, G, H, I, J, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T." He also "stumbled" when asked to stand on one leg and was "swaying" when asked to walk heel-to-toe, the report said. Fossella's blood alcohol level was 0.17, more than twice Virginia's 0.08 legal limit, according to court papers.

Fossella, who has three children with his wife, Mary Pat, changed his story about why he left a Logan Circle area bar, the Logan Tavern, and drove across the river to the Virginia suburbs, according to the complaint.

The complaint, a copy of which was obtained by On the Hill, says that Fossella told police he was on his way to pick up his sick daughter at her home in Alexandria and take her to the hospital. But the next day at a news conference, Fossella said he was driving to Alexandria to see friends.

Fossella gave the arresting officer the name of a street in Alexandria where he said he was picking up his daughter, according to the police report. It is the same street where the woman who picked up Fossella from the police station lives with her 3-year-old daughter, according to her divorce records. She has been identified in news reports as a retired military officer who met Fossella while working in the House.

Fossella spokesman Craig Donner said no announcement or news conference about the congressman's future is planned. His attorney, Barry J. Pollack, would not comment on where Fossella was headed when he was arrested, saying that "where he was heading or who he was going to see really aren't at the heart of the legal case."

As for the underlying charge of drunken driving, Pollack said, "This is not the crime of the century, this is a DUI case."

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