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Covering the Bases

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) became ensnared by the Countrywide mortgage scandal last month, his senior staff came together for a strategy session to decide how to throw colleagues, potential challengers and former employees under the bus.

McKeon is one of four Members referred to the House Ethics Committee to discern whether Countrywide provided preferential treatment to influential lawmakers through an exclusive loan program.

McKeon’s communications director drafted a memo — “a recap of current strategy call” — and addressed it to Chief of Staff Bob Cochran, Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Haueter and political consultant Tony Marsh.

The memo included a reference to a California state Assembly race that pits a former McKeon staffer, Scott Wilk, against McKeon’s wife, Patricia. Wilk previously worked as McKeon’s press secretary and later his district director.

According to the memo, McKeon’s strategy should include “thorough background checks into the relationships between Wilk, [Wilk’s political consultant, Jason Cable] Roe, and their recent shady political connections.”

When asked for comment, Wilk replied: “Well, you [have] got to remember this Assembly seat and his new Congressional seat are all in the same area. … Mr. McKeon has been catching some grief from the right.”

Another prong in the strategy included a note about McKeon’s home-state colleague, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), who also has been embroiled in the Countrywide scandal.

“When we break the story, we need to make sure that Elton is made part of the conversation and [his] similar situation is known,” the memo states.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission rearranged the state’s Congressional districts last year in a way that could have led to a McKeon-Gallegly race.

Gallegly announced his decision to retire Jan. 7. The memo is dated Jan. 6. “No one in this office, including the Congressman, know anything about this memo. So, no, it had nothing to do with his decision to retire,” a Gallegly spokesman said.

“What we have is a recap of a discussion that took place after a national news source obtained information about Mr. McKeon’s Countrywide loan,” a McKeon spokesman tells HOH. “So we were covering all our bases.”

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