Rep. Stearns office denies opponent's bribery accusations

The primary opponent of Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that the incumbent congressman offered him a $25,000 bribe to exit the race in Florida's new 3rd congressional district, and that the FBI is now investigating the matter, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

But a spokesman for Stearns said the report was "totally unfounded" and called the claims  "slanderous" and "contemptuous" in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

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According to James Jett, the Clay County Clerk of Courts, Stearns offered him the choice between cash or a political appointment in exchange for dropping out of the race. The offer was made by former state Education Commissioner Jim Horne, and Jett says recordings exist to back up the account.

"I've got this on tape," Jett said, according to the paper. "This has national ramifications, and I don't want to harm the Republican Party."

Jett adds that he was given the choice between a position on Stearns's campaign, an appointment to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a position with the U.S. Marshall Service, or $25,000 in cash - the amount he had personally invested in his campaign.

Stearns, approached by The Hill in the Capitol Wednesday night, declined to comment on the allegations. But the lawmaker’s spokesperson handed The Hill a written statement.

It read:

This whole thing is bogus. I also reported this to federal authorities here in Washington, which I see as his attempt to solicit a bribe from my supporters. He later attempted to entrap these supporters by recording their phone calls in violation of Florida law.

In his press conference today, he said he was offered an appointment to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which only a governor can do, and then he was offered an appointment to be a U.S. Marshall, which only the president can do.

No supporter can do that…it does not add up.

Stearns spokesman Paul Flusche says Jett's claims are a political maneuver.

“Mr. Jett’s claim is totally unfounded—no one is authorized to make any claims or concessions on behalf of Rep. Stearns. He has not communicated with Mr. Jett at any time to get out of the race.  This is a pure and simple political maneuver by Mr. Jett to illegally entrap former friends for vindictive reasons,” said Flusche in a statement.  “His actions as an elected official are contemptuous.  Mr. Jett’s allegations arose from his own solicitations and strategies for compensation to remove himself as a candidate once he found out that Rep. Stearns would be running in the newly formed district.”

Flusche went on to accuse Jett of violating campaign and state law by discussing the election in his county office and surreptitiously recording phone conversations.

“The people of Clay County will see through his scandalous attempts to illegally entrap his friends to promote his candidacy.  According to his own account, the alleged telephone conversations took place in a county office building and he has cited two county employees as witnesses.  Both the location of the conversations and choice of witnesses are a violation. The use of county facilities as well as county personnel as a base for his campaign is illegal,” Flusche said.

“Also it is in violation of Florida State law for him to record a phone call of someone without his advising him or her he is doing it. It is disappointing that we have to spend time addressing matters of this nature and for someone to have the spotlight for his slanderous behavior.” 

Stearns has notably been a chief advocate of investigations into the awarding of federally-backed loans to failed green energy company Solyndra, saying he believes the White House "broke the law" in awarding the loans.

“The administration, Department of Energy, I think broke the law. And so we have lots of questions,” Stearns told Newsmax last year. The Florida lawmaker chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.

"We started investigating this and we found that there were a lot of emails, disturbingly between the White House and a lot of the wealthy donors who invested in both Obama when he was running for president but also in some of these loan guarantee investments and they had access to the White House,” Stearns added.

Democrats Wednesday pointed out that Stearns was now the third Florida Republican potentially under investigation by federal authorities. According to The New York Times, federal elections officials are examining whether Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) improperly reimbursed campaign contributions, claimed tax deductions inappropriately, and failed to properly disclose his financial interests. Meanwhile, The Miami Herald is reporting that Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) is being investigated for undisclosed payments from a Miami gambling company tied to the congressman.

Andrew Restuccia contributed reporting.

This story was updated at 7:00 p.m.