A humbled former Congressman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) admits both criminal and bad behavior in his new autobiography “Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill”. Ney says people need to know that the system in Washington is still functioning worse than when he and Jack Abramoff and were there. Ney also says he doesn’t hate House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), but that, as third in line for the presidency, people need to know the real story about Boehner. Ney says every politician’s drug of choice is campaign funds, and argued that the money needs to be cleaned out.
TRNS’ Chief White House Correspondent Victoria Jones spoke with Ney, who is now a political analyst for TRNS. This is an edited version of their conversation.
Jones: What role did you play in the Abramoff scandal?
Ney: We became the out front face of the scandal. Jack, even to this day, said that he owned or controlled 100 members – basically in his pocket.
Jones: Did you think you wouldn’t get caught in the Abramoff scandal, did you think you weren’t doing anything wrong, was there hubris involved or were you so drunk that you didn’t care?
Ney: That’s a really good question. I think the entire time I spent with Jack Abramoff tallies three weeks of my life. Never been to his house. Having said that, most people in DC, if someone put a gun to them and said produce receipts for meals for the last two years, they’d be in a body bag. I never felt Abramoff was buying us for any of this. Some of those letters they said I did favors for Abramoff – I signed those letters with 50 or 60 other people. It wasn’t buying me, I had enough money I could buy my own food. I got careless because it was the way the system functioned and I had the attitude “everybody else does it, so what”.
I thought I wouldn’t get caught. I was wrong on that. I went to Scotland. My friends laughed about the golf trip. I hated golf. Twice I said I wouldn’t go because it involved golf, but I went to have a good time and to drink. That’s where the alcohol kicks in and I could have had better judgment. I’m very careful not to blame this on alcohol. I did have bad behavior and I didn’t care.
Jones: Do you believe that Abramoff’s straight now?
Ney: I’ve been asked that question time and time again. I refer to it in the book. I’m not really harsh on Abramoff in the book. I think the court’s out on Abramoff as to whether he wants to be the face of reform or whether he’s doing this to make some money and pay back the huge fee he owes the government. I’m not sure.
Jones: What did you do in the Abramoff scandal?
Ney: I received free food and drink from his restaurant, I falsified a document which was the Scotland trip, which showed more money for the cost of the trip. I still don’t know who paid for the trip – Abramoff lied to us on that. It’s called a stream of favors. There was never a bribery charge. He tried to get me to do an amendment, which the government talks about a lot, but we never did it.
Jones: Did you take the fall?
I believe that I deserved what I got, but there were a lot of other factors where it was very convenient for the Bush administration to nail somebody quick, and once they nailed Abramoff and I “they were done”. There were a lot of others. McCain had a hearing – he didn’t bring Ralph Reed in who was involved in this, he didn’t bring Grover Norquist in. I’m not saying they were guilty, but he didn’t bring them in.
Jones: Why didn’t McCain bring them in?
Ney: I don’t think he could touch it. Tom DeLay was extremely close to Abramoff. DeLay went to the Mariana Islands to the sweat shops, DeLay went to Scotland. Nothing happened to Tom Delay. A little court in Texas could get him, but the big old Justice Department couldn’t. If the White House had gone after Tom Delay, conservative advocacy groups would have stormed that White House. If McCain had dared to delve into other high players in this thing – he kept it at bad, nasty Abramoff – and they got a member of Congress and some staffers and it all ended.
When I went to Jack’s restaurant, I had to practically shove staffers of the Bush administration away from the bar to get a drink. They ate for free. The president said he barely knew Jack. There were photographs. Jack’s “Team Abramoff” had logged in with 200 visits at the White House for business. He met Bush. I don’t think Bush would have known himself [what went on]. You’ve got Barry Jackson, Boehner’s Chief of Staff, he really helped take care of my former chief of staff – both from Ohio. Then Barry went over to be Karl Rove’s No. 1 guy. There’s a whole incestuous system there. It behooved all of them to get this thing out of the way.
I did wrong things, I deserved to get what I got but I think we were very, very convenient for the Bush administration. Once we went away, that was it. They solved their problem.
Jones: You don’t spare fellow Ohioan John Boehner in the book. What do you have against Speaker Boehner?
Ney: I have nothing personally against John Boehner. In 2006 I was very angry at him because he cut a deal with me which he went back on and that was for income and to raise legal fees. I don’t write the book – in this last year – with anger. He was intricately interwoven into this whole Abramoff deal through Barry Jackson, and my chief of staff, and I think people have a right to know the character of the third in line to the president. To have not included him would be to have hidden a very important part of the book.
Jones: You describe him as a bit lazy, a man who was all about winning and money, chain smoking, relentless wine drinker, more interested in the high life – golf, women, cigarettes and alcohol, fundraising not policy. You don’t mention sun tanning. Do you have any reason to believe he’s changed?
Ney: I think that John Boehner’s the same way he’s been. He wants to be Speaker so he’ll cater to certain groups. Everybody knows what I’m saying in that Congress. He’s never been a go-getter. He’s always liked to enjoy the fun part of Congress. He was never known to burn up the halls with legislation or get something done. He happened to become Speaker.
Jones: Is he a big drinker?
Ney: Because I’ve had my problems with alcohol and am in recovery, I won’t put my finger on the fact that he’s an “alcoholic”. But John Boehner is a huge drinker. He’s a constant drinker and there’s nobody in DC that has ever seen him for any period of time that could say I’m lying. I think that’s a significant issue and I hope he comes to terms with it because then he can be a better leader. Believe me, I know. I’ve been down that path.
Jones: Your main beef with him is that he screwed you over; he said that if you resigned in 2006, he would guarantee you a job and he didn’t.
Ney: That’s a definite beef that I point out in the book. He did what’s tantamount to what Blagojovitch did. I would not resign, I had won a primary and was steamrolling into an election. 70 days before the election, Boehner called me and said “If you resign I will get you a job comparable to your salary and I will raise legal defense money for you. I will do it and you can put this whole thing to bed.” I remember this. He told me “You have 24 hours. If you don’t call me in 24 hours, then I won’t re-offer you this offer.” I have witnesses to this offer. They’re denying it. That’s a big error of Boehner’s office last night. Then he went back on his word. I had resigned. He went back on his word.
Ironically, within days of that resignation, the Justice Department is calling my lawyer saying they’re going to indict with multiple counts unless Bob does a plea deal. No one can convince me this wasn’t tied together because they couldn’t have indicted me before that election. I was 70 days away. It was impossible to indict me unless I was out of office. I think Boehner was working with the White House. Barry Jackson was working for Karl Rove.
Jones: Drinking and suicide. You were going to kill yourself before you took the plea.
Ney: When Boehner did not provide the job, I knew immediately I was going down the tubes. In my state and in my alcoholic mind, it would be better if I was not there – because I was technically still in Congress and the insurance policies would kick in, at least my kids would have some money – that was my thinking.
I thought I’ll do it in a big way in front of the Justice Department with a letter. Through a Higher Power I ran into my neighbor, and decided not to do it. I had to sober up. I stopped drinking September 13th, 2006 because my lawyer said in 30 days I want you focused and sober for an important decision as they’re going to indict. I went into rehab.
You have to read in the book about prosecutor Alice Fischer. She’s the one where the FBI reported the torture memos, and she suppressed them for Chertoff when she worked for Homeland Security.
Jones: You say the system’s still in place for this to happen again.
Ney: They had Abramoff and Ney bills where they were going to clean everything up and Nancy Pelosi was going to drain the swamp. Casual lunches, dinner invitations etc. That stopped. They found another way to do it. A lobbyist can invite a lawmaker to a fundraiser – the Redskins from a luxury box, restaurants, sporting events, exotic locations – big game hunting in Alaska. Remember the bondage club for young Republicans?
Jones: What’s your view on SuperPACs?
Ney: They’re outrageous. It’s happening on both sides. I’m fair about it, I mention Soros, Koch and Karl Rove.
The other thing nobody talks about in this city is, I was directly told “You want to be chairman of House Administration, you want to continue to be chairman.” They would actually put in writing that you have to raise $150,000. They still do that – Democrats and Republicans. If you want to be on this committee, it can cost you $50,000 or $100,000 – you have to raise that money in most cases.
Jones: Was prison easy – a club fed?
Ney: The prison that I was in was a minimum. A lot of the people – 78% were drugs. A lot of them were addicts, not big time drug dealers – statistics for the government to say they locked them away. Prisons are there for punishment, not rehabilitation. A dentist came one time in a year. We’re warehousing people. Private prisons are outrageous; that’s to make a profit. I watched somebody ask for food, arrested for male prostitution, a black gentleman, and a white guard stood there and called him a “monkey fag”. And one of the guys a “N” word. Who has the right to say those things to somebody?
Then they had a guy who would strip search guys and make them stand there naked for 15 minutes. I can prove that, too. He was the guy in the visiting room. He made visits hell. He would turn families away because he didn’t like how they were dressed. This is torture. No woe is me. There’s a lot of defenseless people in there. Maybe if you want to be in Congress, they ought make you serve a year in prison and then you could run!
Jones: If you were in Congress, which side of the aisle would you be sitting on?
Ney: Probably in the middle or neither. I have a lot of friends up there. I mention Chris Smith with great respect, Frank Wolf, Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi. There’s a lot of good people. I’d probably be independent.
Jones: Are you still thinking about running?
I’ve ruled that out. A lot of people stopped me in the grocery store last year and said we need you back there!
Jones: You seem content.
Ney: I am happy. Economically, I make what I made in 1981. I pay my bills. I can sit back and be a lot more candid than when I was in office. India recharges my batteries. I play with my granddaughter.