End TV Deal
By Howard Kurtz
The high-profile husband-and-wife legal team said yesterday that they are abandoning their contract with MSNBC and CNBC after furious Democratic criticism that it conflicted with their work as part-time House investigators.
House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) and five other Democratic lawmakers demanded last week that the House Committee on Education and the Workforce fire the attorneys after their TV contract was reported by The Washington Post. They are investigating corruption in the Teamsters and the union's ties to the Democratic Party. Bonior called the cable news contract "an outrageous conflict of interest."
In a statement, diGenova and Toensing defended the contract as "absolutely legal and ethical." But after consulting with friends and colleagues, they said, they decided to pull the plug on further commentary, except in connection with the Teamsters probe or their representation of clients.
"To allow us to proceed without distractions, we have decided to forgo all public commentary while we are leading this investigation," the couple said. They said they were determined "to defeat the Democrats' attempts to draw attention away from serious issues" involving the Teamsters, calling this a "loud and unseemly strategy of delay and distraction."
DiGenova and Toensing have been frequent commentators on such programs as CNBC's "Rivera Live," often criticizing President Clinton and defending independent counsel Kenneth Starr. They said they made no secret of their Republican status and that their on-air role in no way overlapped with the House probe.
The congressional contract pays them $25,000 for 80 hours of work each month and is scheduled to run through July, although it could be extended beyond that.
At NBC, spokeswoman Kassie Canter said: "We understand their decision and we look forward to further discussing a relationship with them when they conclude their work with the committee. We're just putting everything on hold."
Jim Jordan, a spokesman for the committee's Democrats, said they are "certainly relieved that Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing have finally acknowledged the terrible and inherent conflict in which they placed themselves. We still, however, have grave concerns about various other activities, including their lobbying."
Jon Brandt, a spokesman for Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is heading the Teamsters inquiry, said his boss is "supportive" of the couple's decision. Brandt called the Democratic attacks on the couple "ridiculous" and "unfair," saying: "Tomorrow I expect them to come up with some other issue they're concerned about. We wish they'd stop focusing on these irrelevant side issues."
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