Saturday, February 23, 2008

GOP Congressman and Key McCain Ally Indicted

GOP Congressman and Key McCain Ally Indicted

By Ari Berman

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Another GOP congressman has been indicted. This time it's Rick Renzi, indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona today on charges of wire fraud, money laundering and extortion as part of a multimillion dollar land deal that allegedly improperly benefited Renzi and his business partners.

Renzi, a three-time representative from Arizona's First Congressional District who announced his retirement in August, also happens to be a close ally of Senator John McCain. Renzi is a co-chair of McCain's campaign in Arizona. The Arizona Republic describes the two men as "close." In June 2006, McCain sent out a fundraising letter on Renzi's behalf.

"Already his liberal opponents have started advertising on television against him and the Washington liberals have recruited a multi-millionaire from Ohio to challenge him in November," McCain wrote in the e-mail. "Rick's opponent, Ellen Simon, is the former president of the ACLU and has pledged to spend millions of her own dollars to defeat Rick. We simply cannot let this happen," McCain said.

As far back as September 2005, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington listed Renzi as one of the "most corrupt" members of Congress. News of Renzi's land scheme had been percolating for a long time before it finally became public in October 2006. "Many people had information on Rick Renzi and his corrupt practices in 2006, which is one reason I ran for Congress," says Ellen Simon, a civil rights lawyer who was falsely accused by McCain and others of being president of the ACLU. "At the same time this information was known, John McCain was actively supporting Renzi in the race."

Renzi narrowly defeated Simon in the fall. On November 14, 2006, McCain's political action committee, Friends of John McCain, donated $2,000 to Renzi, despite the controversy surrounding him.

The US Attorney in charge of the Renzi investigation, Paul Charlton, was later forced out of office as part of "Attorneygate." According to Charlton, DOJ officials in Washington pressured his office to delay the Renzi indictment until after his victory in November. That's exactly what ended up happening.

More recently, Renzi visited Iraq with McCain in the spring of 2007 - the same trip where McCain, under the protection of 100 American soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships, famously declared that it was safe to "walk freely" through a Baghdad marketplace. "He's giving it to 'em straight," Renzi said after.

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