A new media report that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is now a target of an expanding federal criminal investigation involving an Alaska oil company and state elected officials has once again put House Republicans in a difficult political position, as they continue to be dogged with corruption scandals eight months after they lost the majority in the midterm elections.
GOP Members and aides who spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday said there are ongoing conversations about how to address the Young matter and whether to remove him from his committee assignments, including the ranking membership on the Natural Resources panel and the second-ranking perch on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
A spokeswoman for Young said she had not spoken to her boss, who underwent prostate surgery Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and remained hospitalized Wednesday. “He’s in the hospital and I can’t speculate on it,” said Meredith Kenny, when asked if Young was considering stepping down from his panel posts of his own accord while under scrutiny. “I would chalk that up to rumors.”
One knowledgeable source said Wednesday that Young was denied a seat on the Water Resources Development Act conference committee — whose members were named by the House on Wednesday — because of the investigation, but his committee assignments remain an open question and GOP leaders have dealt with similar matters on a case-by-case basis.
There is no House rule on the matter, and neither the Republican Conference nor the Democratic Caucus have internal rules to handle these situations because the circumstances vary widely in each individual circumstance.
For instance, Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) has retained his seat despite an ongoing federal investigation, but GOP Reps. John Doolittle (Calif.) and Rick Renzi (Ariz.) both stepped down from their committees earlier this year when the FBI raided businesses tied to their family members in separate corruption investigations. Doolittle and Renzi chose to step aside, but they did so under pressure from Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who could have forced a vote to remove them had they not done so first.
However, the GOP Steering Committee also voted to give Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) a seat on the Appropriations Committee this year even though the FBI had pulled his financial disclosure records after media reports questioned earmarks he has steered to property he owns in his district.
A spokesman for Boehner said he had not spoken to Young on Wednesday and declined to comment further, but the 18-term Alaskan was a topic of conversation at the weekly Republican Study Committee meeting.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the conservative group, removed staff from the room during the Young discussion, which largely was focused on a floor blowup he had last week with Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) after the New Jersey lawmaker offered an amendment to cut an earmark that benefits Alaska.
On the floor, Young made several negative remarks directed at Garrett and conservatives in general, who have made earmarks a key issue this year in the annual appropriations process. Hensarling and others condemned Young’s “ad hominem” attacks, but the famously irascible Alaskan has refused to apologize.
Sources familiar with Wednesday’s RSC meeting said there was a discussion over whether there should be a larger effort to address Young’s blowup on the floor, including talks about whether to bring it up at the weekly Republican Conference meeting.
At least one Member, Doolittle, offered a strong defense of Young, sources said. Doolittle lauded Young as a leader of the conservative movement, particularly on environmental issues.
There also is quiet discussion at this point over a proposal to offer a motion in Conference to remove Young from his seat on the Steering Committee, an exclusive panel that decides other Members’ committee assignments. There was no consensus on the matter Wednesday, and sources said Members were unlikely to offer such a motion before giving GOP leaders time to address the issue.
Young has spent nearly $300,000 in legal fees since January, and The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) are both under investigation for their ties to VECO Corp. and for whether they accepted bribes or traded favors to benefit the oil company. Former VECO chief executive Bill Allen, a longtime Young supporter and campaign donor, is cooperating with investigators in the case.
There was a separate floor blowup Wednesday during the Commerce, Justice, science and related agencies appropriations debate when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) offered an amendment to redirect $1 million for the FBI to “expedite” a federal investigation into CJS Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.).
Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) condemned King for the move. “It is appropriate for any Member to raise an issue when it hasn’t been properly dealt with by the leadership in this Congress.” King responded. “It is not inappropriate to ask questions and have answers.”
Mollohan asked King to question “those who have initiated and perpetrated this effort” and to “contemplate the possibility that their motives are not pure.” Mollohan further reiterated that he has never been contacted by the FBI. “I’ve never been approached with regard to [an investigation],” he said.
King’s amendment failed by a wide margin, 19-389, with 16 Members voting “present.”