WASHINGTON — A Justice Department corruption investigation that helped drive John Doolittle from office has now been closed without charges being filed, the former Sacramento-area congressman said Friday.
"I'm thrilled," Doolittle said in an interview. "They've dragged this thing out for six and a half years."
Doolittle's relief, though, is tinged with bitterness at how he believes the Justice Department has mistreated him. He says he accumulated $600,000 in attorneys fees, some of which he was able to pay with campaign funds. The lingering investigation hindered his ability to find work. In the beginning, he said, it proved "very devastating" to his high school-aged daughter.
Even now, Doolittle said, neither he nor his attorney have been able to secure complete, written documentation from the Justice Department.
"They have really hurt my family," Doolittle said, "and they have really hurt me."
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment Friday afternoon.
The now-closed Doolittle investigation was a byproduct of the scandal surrounding disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who entered federal prison four years ago. Abramoff pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts involving conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion relating to his work for Indian tribes.
Abramoff is now in a halfway house and is scheduled for release in December. Most of the other individuals charged in related cases have likewise finished their sentences.
Doolittle said he might never have learned of the development if he hadn't insisted that his attorney call the Justice Department shortly before the Memorial Day weekend. Doolittle said that though some people warned him against "waking the sleeping dog," he was anxious to find out the status of his case so he could help his employment prospects.
A consultant since leaving Congress in January 2009, Doolittle said Friday that he's been "in between jobs" for the past month and a half.
Doolittle said a Justice Department official called his attorney, Tom Mason, back last week.
"He said they have declined to take the case, and the case was closed," Doolittle said.
Doolittle added that he believes the phone call means no case will be brought against his wife, Julie, as well, though he said he's been frustrated in efforts to find out for sure.
An 18-year veteran of the House of Representatives, who previously served in the state Senate, Doolittle announced his retirement in January 2008. At the time, he was under considerable political pressure because of the unfolding Abramoff controversy. Abramoff was a contributor to Doolittle's campaigns and an employer of some close to the congressman.
In April 2007, the FBI raided his northern Virginia house. Doolittle said the investigators sought records associated with a business run by his wife.
"The Justice Department was leaking stuff to the press all the time," Doolittle said.
Doolittle's former legislative director, Kevin Ring, was ultimately implicated and is scheduled for a retrial next month.
Ring went to work as a lobbyist for Abramoff after he left Doolittle's staff. The original charges against Ring, issued last year, identified Doolittle and his wife as unindicted co-conspirators.
Prosecutors presented evidence including e-mails detailing how Abramoff's firm provided Washington Redskins and U2 rock band tickets for Doolittle's staff members, all while seeking legislative help. Prosecutors say that Abramoff also arranged for Julie Doolittle to be paid $5,000 a month for event planning work.
"Congressman Doolittle and his staff helped out again and again and again on lots of projects," federal prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds told a jury last fall, the trial transcript shows. "Not for projects just in his district, not in California, but for Ring's clients thousands of miles away."
Ring's attorney, Andrew Todd Wise, retorted that Ring was merely a good lobbyist, who while on Doolittle's staff had been part of a "close-knit group of mainly late-twenties, early-thirties folks, that developed friendships that lasted after they left."
Ring's initial trial resulted in a hung jury.
"They had made up their minds that they were going to get me," Doolittle said Friday, "but there was no evidence against me."
McClatchy Newspapers 2010