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Monday, July 20, 2009

WhatТs That Got to Do With Mr. Murtha?

One of the most favored insiders in Representative John Murtha’s rich churn of defense earmarks has pleaded guilty to criminal charges, shedding light on a twisting, pay-to-play money trail. The contractor, Richard Ianieri, admitted taking $200,000 in bribes from another big defense contractor in the Murtha orbit, and is cooperating with investigators.

“What’s that got to do with me?” commented Mr. Murtha, who previously lavished praise and tens of millions of dollars in contracts on the two companies caught up in the criminal investigation.

He asks an ever more urgent question. Investigators have not identified him as a target. But the inquiry is backtracking a trail of hundreds of millions awarded to Pentagon contractors who gratefully requited with tens of millions in political donations to Democrats on the appropriations subcommittee headed by Mr. Murtha.

In just one tangent of the complex inquiry, Mr. Ianieri’s company hired the lobbying firm of Mr. Murtha’s brother Kit. The company soon was blessed with money from an $8.2 million defense earmark. The Capitol newspaper Roll Call reported last month that Representative Murtha, using a 2005 tsunami relief bill, took the $8.2 million from another contractor that had severed ties with his brother’s lobbying firm. The Department of Justice alleges that Mr. Ianieri’s company then illicitly distributed $1.8 million of the money to other companies, some of them represented by Kit Murtha’s firm.

The Murtha money trail is far from fully explored but already features a second tangent of Congressional appropriations staff members’ exiting through the golden door to defense lobbying and scoring big contracts from their old bosses. Taxpayers should press the question of what all this has to do with Mr. Murtha (who has also used his gavel to create a luxury supermart of defense contractors in his Pennsylvania district).

Beyond the criminal investigation, a full-scale ethics inquiry should be pressed by House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. If not, the Murtha money trail could lead them back to the minority.

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