Doolittle's two top aides subpoenaed

WASHINGTON — Two top aides of Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., have been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with the ongoing investigation into the congressman's relationship with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The subpoenas raise new questions about the federal investigation. Both aides joined Doolittle's staff after Abramoff's glory days as the star Republican lobbyist in Washington, D.C., had fizzled into a searing tale of political corruption involving gross overcharges of Indian tribes, political manipulation and shuffling of large amounts of cash.

Doolittle, who had risen as high as fourth in the GOP hierarchy when Republicans were in control of the House and was a close ally of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, said he hoped his aides' testimony brings to a speedy end the investigation that has been dogging him for three years.

"I think everyone can agree that this issue needs closure," Doolittle said. "Three years seems like more than adequate time to determine the facts. I look forward to the truth finally being established and hope that we may have a resolution soon."

Doolittle has denied any wrongdoing in his relationship with Abramoff, who steered tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions to the congressman's campaign committee and paid Julie Doolittle more than $60,000 for fundraising work.

Julie Doolittle runs a bookkeeping and fundraising business out of the couple's home in suburban Virginia. Her firm did work for Abramoff. The Doolittles home in Oakton, Va., was searched by the FBI on April 13.

The subpoenas announced Tuesday could be an indication that federal prosecutors have questions about more recent activities involving the congressman. After Julie Doolittle ended her work with Abramoff, she began raising money for her husband's political action committee and then his campaign committee. She was paid a commission of 15 cents for every dollar she raised.

Prosecutors also have interviewed as many as a half-dozen former staffers as they seek to determine if there was criminal wrongdoing in the relationship Doolittle and his wife Julie had with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to political corruption charges last year.

Subpoenaed were Ron Rogers, the congressman's chief of staff, and Dan Blankenburg, his deputy chief of staff.

The congressman said in a statement released by his office that Rogers and Blankenburg will appear later this week before a federal grand jury impaneled by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Blankenburg started working for Doolittle in April 2005, nearly a year after a grand jury first subpoenaed Doolittle's wife's business records in connection with the Abramoff investigation.

Rogers was hired last May, replacing Doolittle's former top aide, Richard Robinson. Prior to joining Doolittle's staff, Rogers worked for the political consulting firm of Russo Marsh & Rogers in Sacramento.

Additionally, Sacramento lawyer William Portanova said Tuesday that he is still working out delivering more financial records held by another of Doolittle's former chiefs of staff, David Lopez. Lopez left in 2005 and was replaced by Robinson.

Lopez has refused a request to be interviewed by prosecutors, and on that score nothing has changed, Portanova said. But Portanova said Lopez is still turning over documents to the grand jury under subpoena, and that the documents involve, among other things, fundraising information involving Julie Doolittle's home-based company, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions.

The subpoenas were announced Tuesday on the House floor as required by the chamber's rules as Congress returned from its August recess. Doolittle spokesman Gordon Hinkle said Rogers and Blankenburg were not clear on when the subpoenas arrived because they were served to the House counsel's office.