Congressman in Inquiry on Lobbying Will Retire
By Philip Shenon
The New York Times
Friday 11 January 2008
Washington - Representative John T. Doolittle, a California Republican who has suggested he is almost certain to face criminal charges in a Congressional lobbying scandal, announced Thursday that he would retire from the House next year.
The announcement by Mr. Doolittle, 57, who is in his ninth term in Congress and was once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, made no reference to the criminal investigation by the Justice Department, which has centered on his connections to the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Last April, Mr. Doolittle's home in suburban Virginia was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of that inquiry, and his wife, a campaign fund-raiser, was subpoenaed for her financial records.
Mr. Doolittle acknowledged last year that he was being pressured by the Justice Department to accept a plea bargain and confess to criminal corruption charges involving his ties to Mr. Abramoff. He said the raid was an effort to coerce him to "admit to a crime that I did not commit."
His decision not to seek re-election in November was welcomed by his party's leaders in the House, who had quietly made known that they wanted Mr. Doolittle to step down to make way for a Republican successor in his Republican-leaning district. He had trouble holding onto his seat in the 2006 election as a result of his legal troubles.
"My wife, Julie, and I have made this decision after much prayer and deliberation," Mr. Doolittle said at an appearance before supporters in his Northern California district to announce his retirement. "It was not my initial intent to retire, and I fully expected and planned to run again right up until very recently."
"But it distilled upon us that we were ready for a change after spending our entire married lives with me in public service," he continued. "We are at peace with this choice and look forward to starting a new chapter in our lives."
Justice Department officials would not comment Thursday on the status of the criminal investigation against Mr. Doolittle, who is among nearly 20 House Republicans to announce that they will voluntarily leave Congress over the next year. Prosecutors appear to be focused on business connections between Mr. Doolittle's wife and lobbyists, including Mr. Abramoff, who might have sought to influence his vote.
In November 2006, another Republican, Representative Bob Ney of Ohio, became the first lawmaker to resign from Congress and plead guilty to crimes as a result of the scandals involving Mr. Abramoff, once one of Washington's most powerful Republican lobbyists.
The House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, said in a statement Thursday that Mr. Doolittle's decision to leave the House "was made in the best interests of his family, his constituents and the House, and I appreciate his years of service in Congress."
"My prayers remain with John and Julie, and I wish them the best as they work to bring this difficult process to a resolution," Mr. Boehner added.
Until this week, Mr. Doolittle publicly rebuffed calls for his resignation and said he was eager to seek another term. Branding his critics within the Republican Party as "weasels," he continued until several days ago to seek donations for a re-election campaign this November.
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