FBI probe of late Rep. Murtha still open

The FBI investigation involving the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) is still open, according to documents released Tuesday.

The FBI disclosed 892 pages on Murtha in response to several Freedom of Information Act requests, including one from The Hill, and posted the documents on its website.

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Parts of those files deal with federal authorities’ probe of various defense contractors and the PMA Group, a now-defunct lobby firm that was linked to Murtha through his earmarks for the firm’s clients as well as their campaign contributions to the longtime lawmaker.

“Mr. Murtha was also the subject of other ethical and potentially criminal complaints. … This release contains public source information found in a Pittsburgh Division investigation into allegations of kickbacks involving government defense contractors,” the FBI states on its website. “As this investigative file is still in ‘pending status,’ the bulk of the file’s FBI documents are not releasable until the conclusion of the investigation.”

Regarding the investigation of the PMA Group, the FBI released a 24-page file of newspaper articles from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other news outlets. The reports detail raids in 2008 and 2009 by the FBI and other federal agencies on the PMA Group, as well as Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems — two defense contractors linked to Murtha due to earmarks he won for the firms and a campaign fundraiser their executives held for him.

Before his death, Murtha always denied any wrongdoing when asked about the federal investigation of the PMA Group. The lobby firm became a center of congressional scandal due to its success in winning earmarks for its clients, triggering ethics investigations of several lawmakers.

The ethics committee issued a report in February stating no member acted improperly regarding earmarks for companies that hired PMA. The Justice Department is still investigating the matter.

Murtha died in February of this year after complications from surgery. A Marine veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, Murtha was elected to the House in 1974 to represent Pennsylvania’s 12th district and served there until his death. Murtha rose through Democratic ranks to become the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee and a key ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The release of Murtha’s FBI file follows last week’s special election of his longtime aide to fill his seat. Democrat Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns to keep the seat in the majority party’s hands despite GOP hopes that they could flip the seat.

In part of its release Tuesday on Murtha, the FBI disclosed 257 pages related to the ABSCAM case, an undercover FBI operation that targeted public officials during the late 1970s and early ’80s. Murtha was “a subject of interest” in the investigation, according to the FBI, but the Justice Department announced in 1980 that he would not face prosecution in the case.

Murtha refused a bribe offered to him by undercover agents, which was caught on video by the FBI but was not released Tuesday. The lawmaker later testified against two fellow members of Congress — former Reps. John Murphy (D-N.Y.) and Frank Thompson (D-N.J.) — targeted by the investigation.

The bulk of the FBI’s file on Murtha, however, deals with threats made against the congressman. The FBI said it investigated each threat to determine if there was a real risk to the lawmaker’s life and whether or not a crime had been committed.

Murtha received threatening letters from someone in a state mental hospital and a Gulf War protester. The lawmaker also received a 43-page e-mail from someone calling for his assassination.

Prosecutors declined to act in several cases, but at least one individual was charged and convicted for threatening Murtha and then sentenced to 60 months of probation.

Many of the documents released by the FBI were full of redactions. Agency officials blacked out information to protect personal privacy, agency deliberations or grand jury secrecy, among other reasons.

This story was originally posted at 10:44 a.m. and was updated at 1:49 p.m. and 7:50 p.m.