Rep. John Doolittle, whose house was searched by the FBI in an influence-peddling investigation, said Thursday he will step down temporarily from the House Appropriations Committee.
The announcement by the nine-term California Republican came one day after the disclosure that agents had raided his home in Oakton, Va. In the search last Friday, the FBI had a warrant for information connected with a fundraising business run by Doolittle’s wife, Julie, that had done work for convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
“I understand how the most recent circumstances may lead some to question my tenure on the Appropriations Committee,” Doolittle wrote House Minority Leader John 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.”
Doolittle’s ties to Abramoff have come under scrutiny in the corruption investigation that has sent one former Republican congressman, Bob Ney of Ohio, to prison on a guilty plea to charges of conspiracy and making false statements, and produced convictions against two senior Bush administration officials and several congressional aides.
Congressional Republicans have worked to repair their party’s image in the wake of November’s election losses that followed Democratic criticism of a GOP “culture of corruption.” Boehner made clear to Doolittle Thursday morning that he must resign the committee, according to a Republican aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
“John recognizes that if we are to succeed in restoring trust between the American people and their elected leaders, this action is necessary, and I commend him for having the courage to do the right thing,” Boehner said in a statement.
Last week’s search of Doolittle’s home took place on the same day that Kevin Ring, a former Doolittle aide who went on to work for Abramoff, resigned from a law firm without explanation.
Doolittle, a conservative from Roseville in northern California, is an ally of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Doolittle called Abramoff a friend and the two had numerous connections. Doolittle accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash from Abramoff and interceded on behalf of the lobbyist’s American Indian clients.
Julie Doolittle’s company, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc., was paid a near-monthly retainer by Abramoff’s firm Greenberg Traurig from September 2002 to February 2004. She was hired to work on a March 2003 fundraiser at the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., for an Abramoff outfit called the Capital Athletic Foundation; the event was canceled after the invasion of Iraq.
Abramoff is cooperating with the government after pleading guilty in January 2006 to conspiracy, mail fraud and other charges, admitting to bilking his Indian tribe clients out of tens of millions of dollars with promises to influence the decisions of Congress and the Interior Department.
Julie Doolittle also worked for her husband’s campaigns, an arrangement that was criticized during his re-election last year. Doolittle came close to losing to a Democratic political neophyte even though his district is among the most heavily Republican in California.
The Appropriations Committee is among the most powerful in Congress because it determines spending on government programs. Doolittle had used his committee spot to steer valuable projects to his district. Appropriations was the only committee Doolittle served on; he’s now left without a committee assignment.
Copyright Â© 2007 The Associated Press