Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, acknowledged on Wednesday night that while his recently released book paints a harsh portrait of some Washington figures, he isn’t out to settle a grudge.
“I’m not a bitter person,” he told the crowd gathered at the Monocle for a book release party. “I’m happy … but there are some things in there I had to tell, I had to get it out.”
“Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill” was released Tuesday, though copies around the capital city are hard to find. Ney’s publisher confirmed the personal account of Ney’s political career and eventual downfall will be “widely available” within the week.
Ney represented Ohio in the House for more than a decade before being felled by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. He served 17 months in a federal prison and a halfway house after pleading guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. Now he’s back — and he isn’t shy about telling his story.
Ney begins with his childhood in the Ohio River Valley and his happenstance entry into politics during college at Ohio University and Ohio State University before moving onto a formative sojourn teaching in Iran, his tenure in the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio State Senate and his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, drinking heavily all the way.
After being asked to be a delegate at the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, where Ronald Reagan was challenging Gerald Ford, he was invited to Washington by the Ford White House.
“We headed to D.C. in my Chevy Chevette, changed our clothes in Karl Rove’s apartment and camped out there that night. His place seemed disorganized and had the appearance of an apartment where the occupant doesn’t spend much time,” Ney recollects.
His first official stop in Washington was also his first brush with the side benefits that political power could provide — after Ney’s car was towed for being in a no-parking zone outside the Mayflower Hotel, Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk called the D.C. mayor’s office to get it back.
“Using politicians to defy local laws would get you in the press these days, but the 70s were different bag,” Ney writes.
It would be 20 years before Ney would take the trips to England and Scotland that would lead to the Justice Department probe that landed him in prison, and his story spends ample time dishing on the Washington relationships he made during that time.
Ney describes his fellow Ohio delegation colleague and now Speaker John A. Boehner as a “good ol’ boy” who “took the easy way legislatively” and spent most of his time fundraising. “He was a chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker who was more interested in the high life — golf, women, cigarettes, fun, and alcohol,” Ney writes.
If Ney, who is now sober, seems bitter toward Boehner, it isn’t for the late nights he said they spent at the bars. Ney said that Boehner urged him to drop his re-election bid in 2006 after news of the Abramoff travel scandal broke and that he was offered a lucrative gig if he resigned within 24 hours.
“Let me get this right. If I resign, you will get me a job comparable to the congressional salary and raise legal defense money for me?” Ney recalls asking Boehner.
“Absolutely, that’s the deal; you have my personal assurance and you can take it to the bank,” was Boehner’s response, Ney writes.
The plum position never materialized, of course, and Ney ended up going to prison.
Boehner’s office this week dismissed the allegations. Spokesman Michael Steel told multiple media outlets that Ney is a “convicted felon with a history of failing to tell the truth.” Boehner on Thursday called Ney a “disgraced congressman who went to jail” and dismissed the accusations as “baseless and false.”
“He better be very careful. He thinks a phone call between the two of us is very isolated, and I would argue that it’s not,” Ney said of Boehner’s response during an interview. “I have proof. I’m just going to wait a bit,” he added.
Steel said, “our position has not changed” since the earlier refutations.
Ney devotes a chapter to Roll Call and the role that one of its reporters at the time played in his eventual downfall, claiming that super lobbyist Abramoff at one point considered buying the publication in order to install then-reporter John Bresnahan as its editor. Ney claimed in an interview that Bresnahan “did Jack’s bidding.” In the book, Ney accuses him of cozying up to “Team Abramoff” and ignoring stories that reflected badly on former Texas Republican Rep. Tom Delay in favor of pillorying Ney in the press. DeLay was also convicted for his role in the scheme and is currently appealing that decision.
“I don’t believe Roll Call was aware of the alleged conspiracy behind Abramoff’s plan to buy the newspaper and make Bresnahan the editor,” Ney writes.
Bresnahan now works at Politico and the publication’s editor in chief, John Harris, dismissed the account as “malicious and flatly untrue.”
“John’s reputation for toughness and journalistic integrity is universally known and respected by his colleagues at Politico, at competing news organizations, and among lawmakers and staffers in both parties on Capitol Hill,” Harris said.
Ney told the Monocle crowd on Wednesday that he believes “the barrel is still corrupt.”
The ethics revisions enacted in the House after the Abramoff fallout are mere “window dressing,” he writes in the book.
Ney addresses the House Ethics Committee in his book. He says a political battle between then-Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and then-ranking member Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., meant the committee had not been officially constituted and could not consider his case. If it had, Ney believes, the reporting issue that the Justice Department used to ensnare him could have been resolved.
“If the Ethics Committee at the time had been constituted, I think I would’ve argued my case to them and possibly gotten a slap on the wrist. I would’ve rather taken my chances with my peers,” Ney told CQ Roll Call. “Now, I’m not stupid. The Justice Department would’ve come up with something else.”
The post-travel disclosure forms that Ney filed after trips to London and Scotland were integral to the case built by federal prosecutors.
Ney said he weighed running for office again in 2012 but dismissed the idea. He lives close to his family in Ohio, hosts a radio show and spends large chunks of time in India, where he wrote portions of the book. He maintains the book is not his attempt to settle scores but is a way to put that period his life behind him.
“The book was a way to go from upset to closure. I’m writing more about how I felt emotionally at that time,” Ney said.
Ney said he lives in the present these days and doesn’t worry about the future, but about one thing he is certain. “I will not lobby, I can tell you that much,” Ney said.