Sat, Jan 01, 2011 - Page 7 News List

O’Donnell goes on the offensive over criminal probe

AP, WASHINGTON

Former US Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell went on the offensive on Thursday following reports that US federal prosecutors are looking into whether she illegally used campaign money for personal use, saying the accusations are politically motivated and stoked by disgruntled former campaign workers.

The Delaware Republican appeared on several network TV morning shows to defend herself a day after it was revealed authorities have opened a criminal investigation to determine whether she broke the law by spending campaign money on personal expenses, such as rent.

“There’s been no impermissible use of campaign funds whatsoever,” O’Donnell told American Broacasting Co’s Good Morning America.

O’Donnell ticked off a long list of groups and individuals that she said could be behind the investigation — establishment Republicans, US President Barack Obama’s administration and US Vice President Joe Biden in particular; a nonpartisan watchdog group that she said had a liberal bent; and unhappy former campaign workers.

She said she believes the Democratic and Republican establishments are out to stop her.

“You have to look at this whole ‘thug-politic’ tactic for what it is,” she said.

A person familiar with the investigation confirmed the criminal investigation of O’Donnell on Wednesday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the identity of a client who has been questioned as part of the investigation.

The case, which has been assigned to two federal prosecutors and two FBI agents in Delaware, has not been brought before a grand jury.

The federal investigation follows a complaint filed with the US Federal Election Commission in September by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group that monitors ethics issues.

The complaint — based in part on an affidavit from former O’Donnell campaign worker David Keegan — alleges that she misspent more than US$20,000 in campaign funds. The group also asked Delaware’s federal prosecutor to investigate.

O’Donnell has acknowledged she paid part of her rent at times with campaign money, arguing that her house doubled as a campaign headquarters. Election commission rules prohibit using campaign money for a candidate’s rent.

While the comission frequently investigates and pursues civil cases involving election laws, criminal prosecutions against candidates for such violations are rare. Campaign finance experts say the distinguishing factor is intent.

Craig Engle, another campaign finance attorney, said a criminal case might never materialize and said even criminal prosecutions typically result in financial penalties, not prison time — although the law allows for a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

“The law is actually fairly clear,” he said. “You cannot make any personal use of campaign contributions ... it even itemizes things that would be considered personal use.”

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