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GOP Leaders Hesitant to Endorse Doolittle

With fresh subpoenas landing in the office of Rep. John T. Doolittle, a pair of leading House Republicans declined to say yesterday whether they would endorse the veteran California Republican for re-election.

Doolittle was already forced off his key assignment on the Appropriations Committee in April after the FBI raided his Virginia home. Yesterday his office announced on the House floor that his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in Washington to testify in connection with the Jack Abramoff investigation -- in addition to a string of former aides who have already acknowledged talking to the FBI and Justice Department.

Asked whether he would endorse Doolittle, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) signaled that the issue of Doolittle's re-election campaign might be a moot point.

"I think we're still a long way from the primary and a lot of circumstances will change one way or another between now and then," Blunt, the minority whip, told Capitol Briefing.

Another member of the leadership, House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), echoed Blunt when asked about a possible endorsement of Doolittle:

"I think it's premature to speculate on that," Putnam said.

Doolittle is already facing a GOP challenge in the primary next June, with a filing deadline of early March. He has maintained his innocence throughout the Abramoff investigation and has pledged to run in 2008, which could likely pit him in a rematch against Democrat Charlie Brown. Hammering away on the Abramoff matter, Brown's under-funded campaign nearly knocked off Doolittle last year.

Doolittle's statement today noted that he was active in his Sacramento-area district last week. The statement touted Doolittle's securing of funds for key transportation projects.

The statement also showed impatience with the Justice Department's investigation.

"I think everyone can agree that this issue needs closure," Doolittle said. "Three years seems like more than adequate time to determine the facts. I look forward to the truth finally being established and hope that we may have a resolution soon."

The Justice Department has been investigating Doolittle for his Abramoff ties since at least July 2004, when a grand jury first subpoenaed the lawmaker's wife Julie. Her event-planning firm received $5,000 a month from Abramoff from late 2002 to early 2004, at a time when her husband took legislative action in favor of Abramoff clients, including writing a letter to federal regulators in support of opening a tribal casino in Iowa. A religious conservative, Doolittle has publicly opposed gambling for most of his political life.

Rather than publicly calling for them to resign, House leaders appear to be doing the send-a-signal routine with Doolittle and other ethically embattled lawmakers, hoping they get the hints that the leadership would prefer they make the decision to step aside on their own. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) got the signal. Renzi, like Doolittle, was stripped of his committee assignments when his home was raided in May in connection with an Arizona corruption probe. He announced last month he won't seek re-election, giving Republicans a better chance of holding a seat that leans Republican.

Doolittle's district is a sure-fire Republican seat in a normal environment -- Doolittle used to regularly receive 65 percent of the vote, and President Bush won the district with 61 percent in 2004.

For now, Doolittle has not taken the hint and is still in the race for re-election, which might have prompted today's even stronger hints from Blunt and Putnam that the issue be resolved before the primary next June.

By Paul Kane  |  September 4, 2007; 8:32 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules , GOP Leaders  
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