Rep. Reynolds's frustration boils over at Dem criticism of Bush, GOP ethics

Republicans began last week by absorbing blistering attacks on President Bush’s management of disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina and the massive flooding of New Orleans and ended the week when a Texas grand jury indicted Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s political action committee. In between, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) threatened to slug Bush.

By last Thursday, a top Republican official had had enough.

“The name calling … these things have gone too far,” said Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), referring to comments by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said Bush was oblivious to what was happening in New Orleans.

Reynolds began the interview lashing out at his counterpart, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and has attacked Republicans for their ties to GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was indicted last month by a Florida grand jury.

DeLay’s political action committee Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) was indicted Thursday on five felony counts of using corporate money to influence state elections. The Travis County grand-jury investigation threatens DeLay’s political standing in the House because, if indicted, he would have to step down as majority leader.

“I’m tired of having Rahm calling up you guys” to discuss allegations of wrongdoing by Republicans, said Reynolds, calling Emanuel “Mr. Righteous.”

Reynolds added, “While he wants to play this game, he’s got exposure. If the Democratic leadership thinks the Republican leadership will be silent on ethics, the Democrats got another thing coming. … I intend to have the NRCC come back.”

Emanuel discounted the allegations, saying, “I feel for Tom. He’s got a tough reelection again. He’s got a horrible political environment. More of his colleagues are seeking other office or talking about retirement. More races are in play.”

“He’s under a lot of pressure. I have nothing but empathy for him. My recommendation: work out. It helps you deal with stress,” added Emanuel.

Reynolds first cited Emanuel’s support of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D), whose aides have been indicted or convicted on corruption charges. Daley has not been accused of wrongdoing, but prosecutors questioned him last month, two days after Emanuel gave a spirited defense of how Daley has managed the city as mayor.

And just last month Bush said, “[Daley] is a great mayor of a great city.”

But Reynolds also focused on two donors who gave money to Democratic candidates, the DCCC or Emanuel and to Republican lawmakers, party committees and candidates.

Reynolds inaccurately alleged in a press release last week that Emanuel accepted donations from William Tomasso, a partner in a major construction firm in Connecticut who is under federal indictment for paying bribes, rewards and gratuities for getting contracts from jailed former Gov. John Rowland (R). Tomasso never gave to the DCCC while Emanuel has been chairman, and he never contributed to Emanuel’s personal campaign funds.

Tomasso, however, has given donations to Connecticut Democrats, some of whom returned them, and to Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), who have not.

Reynolds also cited that Emanuel had accepted campaign money from Joe Cari, a former Democratic National Committee official, who was indicted last month along with Stuart Levine, a major GOP donor and former trustee of the Teachers’ Retirement System in Illinois.

Prosecutors allege Levine used his position with the system to arrange kickbacks from companies seeking to invest in the fund. Cari is expected to plead guilty this week; Levine has pleaded not guilty.

Cari donated $5,000 to Emanuel between 2001 and 2003 and $5,000 to the DCCC. Emanuel said he would return the money.

But Levine donated to both parties. He gave $3,250 to the House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) campaign committee and $5,000 to his political action committee (PAC) in 2003. Levine gave a total of $2,000 to Hastert in 2001 and 2002. He has also helped Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.) and Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who returned Levine’s $1,000 donation this year.

“Hastert is exploring options to return the Levine money,” a top GOP aide said.

Spokespeople for Green, Johnson and Shays did not respond to requests for comment.