Despite having recused himself from matters relating to the FBI — which is reportedly investigating his finances — Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday voted against an amendment that would have increased the bureau’s budget by $6 million.
Republicans say Mollohan’s vote proves his recusal is a sham — and claim the amendment was intended to draw him out. Democrats defended Mollohan, saying he had not participated in discussions about the agencies that are reportedly investigating him, though no one from his office or the Appropriations Committee would go on the record for this article.
The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the connection between Mollohan and several nonprofits in West Virginia to which he has funneled millions of dollars worth of earmarks. The leaders of the nonprofit groups include some of Mollohan’s real estate partners and top campaign contributors.
Mollohan has not been charged with any wrongdoing and repeatedly has pointed out he never has been notified by the Justice Department that he is under investigation.
Nevertheless, last year he stepped down from the top Democratic spot on the ethics committee. In January he announced that while he was assuming the chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, he would recuse himself from matters dealing with the agencies investigating him.
It has been widely reported that Mollohan sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee recusing himself from matters involving the Justice Department, a decision that was hailed by watchdog groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
But according to the committee, Mollohan’s recusal applies only to four accounts within Justice: the Office of the Attorney General, the U.S. attorneys, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Neither Mollohan’s office nor the Appropriations Committee would provide a copy of the recusal letter, and Republicans claimed they have never seen it.
Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) joined Mollohan in managing the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill during floor debate last week, with Obey taking the lead on amendments that directly addressed the FBI.
But Mollohan was actively involved in debate on other Justice Department provisions in the bill. During floor debate, he talked Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) out of offering an amendment to take $2 million out of “general administration” in the Justice Department and move it to hurricane research. He voted “no” on two other amendments that would have moved money out of DOJ’s coffers for other purposes.
Mollohan also voted against an amendment offered by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) that would have shifted $6 million from the Economic Development Administration to the FBI — though Obey managed this portion of the debate.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told Roll Call Thursday that Mollohan’s recusal is a sham.
“His pledge to recuse himself didn’t hold itself through the appropriations process,” King said. “I think he’s stayed out of nothing. I don’t see any evidence that he has. His lack of restraint [Wednesday] night indicates that it really wasn’t a commitment.
“It is ridiculous to make the statement that you are going to be chairman of that committee and recuse yourself from any dealings that had to do with the dealings of the committee,” King said, adding that ultimately “Mollohan broke his vow of omerta.”
King offered an amendment during the floor debate to provide the FBI $1 million to speed its investigation of Mollohan, in protest of Mollohan’s continued chairmanship of the subcommittee. “[Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] was wrong to hand Mollohan the gavel for Justice appropriations. Mollohan was wrong to take it, regardless of whether he is innocent or not,” King said. “If the impropriety was such that it compelled him to step down from ethics, it was more compelling that he step down from Justice.”
King also lashed out at his own leadership for failing to back his amendment and for failing to make a stand against Mollohan’s chairmanship.
“If leadership was not going to step up and make an issue of this, somebody had to,” King said. “Leadership by their nature wants smooth sailing and when the boat gets rocked they have a tendency to want to stabilize the boat.”
But a GOP source who asked not to be named said the Sessions amendment on the FBI funding was part of a leadership strategy to smoke Mollohan out.
“They have not released the alleged recusal letter or defined its parameters publicly, so we tested its parameters ourselves. Turns out they’re not that tight, if they exist at all,” this source said.
On the floor, Democrats vigorously defended Mollohan. Obey said Mollohan has been faithful to his recusal and “has not reviewed any reprogramming letters. He has not reviewed any Member requests for any of the attendant agencies involved in that investigation. He has not presided over any hearings. He has not participated or made any recommendations with respect to funding on this bill.”
Mollohan himself rose to oppose King’s amendment, and he said King appears to have “greater knowledge about any investigation than I have. … I could not tell you actually if it exists because I have never been approached with regard to it.”
Democrats also noted later in the week that Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) has not recused himself at all from discussions of Justice spending, despite an FBI investigation of earmarks he secured for California towns with the assistance of a lobbying firm with close ties to his office.
Lewis also voted against the FBI budget increase and against the King amendment to speed the Mollohan investigation.
King said he has been looking into Mollohan’s case for more than a year and he “probably looked at more evidence than a jury will see.” He said he could not rule out the possibility of returning to the floor with another Mollohan-related amendment in the future.
Mollohan’s office referred calls about his recusal to the Appropriations Committee and declined several requests for comment.