Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Specter Staffer Under FBI Investigation

Arlen Specter is getting ahead of the news by putting out the story himself, as any political professional would be well advised to do:

The FBI is investigating whether a member of Sen. Arlen Specter's staff broke the law by helping her husband, a lobbyist, secure almost $50 million in Pentagon spending for his clients, the senator acknowledged Tuesday.

In an Aug. 21 letter, FBI official Joseph Persichini Jr. told Specter, R-Pa., that the bureau is investigating "allegations of possible criminal misconduct" by staff member Vicki Siegel Herson. Persichini also asked for a copy of a report summarizing the results of an investigation of Siegel and other Specter employees with relatives who are lobbyists. Specter's former chief of staff, William Reynolds, carried out the investigation.

Specter provided a copy of the FBI letter to USA TODAY and said his staff gave the FBI the report last month.

The federal probe stems from a February report by USA TODAY about Siegel. Specter helped direct $48.7 million in Pentagon spending over the past five years to clients of her lobbyist husband, Michael Herson.

Specter has acknowledged he used his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to put special-interest language in Pentagon spending bills directing the money to clients of Herson's firm, American Defense International.

Specter says he didn't know of the link to Siegel, who was one of his top advisers on spending issues until last fall.

Specter says he did nothing wrong. "There's no violation of the (Senate) ethics rules," Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday.

Siegel and Herson did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday evening.

Specter's investigation found that two lobbyists related to Specter staff members had lobbied the senator's office, and Specter inserted language directing a $200,000 grant to the client of one of them last year. That lobbyist, Eric Wallace, is the son of Specter's Scranton office chief, Andy Wallace.

USA TODAY reported on the findings April 25. That day, FBI agent Jennifer Bach reviewed Specter's personal financial disclosure statements, Senate records show. Specter said his family's assets are in a blind trust, and "I've taken every step to avoid problems."

After the first report about Siegel, Specter changed his office rules to ban contact with any lobbyists related to staff members. Specter also referred the matter to the Senate ethics committee, which has taken no action.

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