An attorney for Christine O'Donnell, the tea party favorite who lost a U.S. Senate bid in Delaware last year, is asking federal prosecutors to investigate the head of a group that filed a complaint last fall alleging O'Donnell had illegally spent campaign money.
U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly III sent a letter to O'Donnell's campaign lawyer on Friday informing her that prosecutors had finished their probe of allegations that O'Donnell had converted campaign funds for personal use, including rent, and had made false statements in Federal Election Commission filings.
"I write to inform you that this office has closed its review and does not intend to pursue criminal charges at this time," Oberly said in a letter to Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing O'Donnell in FEC matters. Oberly told Mitchell he was referring the matter to the FEC, which received a related complaint from Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, also known as CREW.
O'Donnell has acknowledged in the past that she paid part of her rent at times with campaign money, arguing that her home doubled as a campaign headquarters. FEC rules prohibit using campaign money for a candidate's mortgage or rent.
In a separate matter, a divided FEC recently voted along party lines to end an investigation of whether O'Donnell and the California-based Tea Party Express improperly coordinated campaign spending in the past.
Oberly's letter to Mitchell came one day after he received a request from O'Donnell attorney Richard Abbott asking for an investigation of CREW executive director Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who filed the complaints after O'Donnell won the Republican Senate primary in September.
Abbott alleged that CREW's complaint was based on an affidavit from former O'Donnell campaign worker David Keegan Jr. that contained false information and was not properly vetted by CREW.
"Although the purely political motives behind the submission to your office are not illegal, making false statements to the United States Attorneys' office and/or FEC would violate federal law," he wrote.
"The complaints were made without proper vetting of the Keegan affidavit," Abbott added. "They also were submitted directly in the face of evidence indicating that the allegations about rent payments were both untrue and legally erroneous. As a result, your office is respectfully requested to immediately commence an investigation and undertake any appropriate prosecution of Ms. Sloan for potential violation(s) of federal law."
Oberly declined to comment Saturday. Sloan said in an e-mail that O'Donnell, her staff and her lawyers were "clearly unfamiliar with the law."
"CREW is unconcerned," Sloan wrote.
Abbott said the letter represents O'Donnell's intention "to go on the offense" against CREW and Sloan.
Mitchell described CREW's complaint as "yet another partisan hit job" by Sloan and said she expects that the FEC also will dismiss the complaint.
"This is not the first time a citizen has been unfairly maligned by CREW and Melanie Sloan, always to great press fanfare when the attacks are launched," Mitchell said in a statement.
"However, my clients have always prevailed against CREW's attacks because CREW consistently and continually files false allegations."
O'Donnell said in a statement that CREW is prohibited by its nonprofit status from intervening in political campaigns.
"But they more than intervened in the campaign," O'Donnell alleged, "doing everything they could possibly do to sabotage my election."
The watchdog group has filed complaints on alleged ethics violations by Democratic and Republican officeholders and candidates.
Sloan said in a statement issued earlier Saturday that O'Donnell joins the ranks of "scandal-ridden politicians the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section has allowed to skate by, despite evidence of criminal wrongdoing."
Keegan noted that O'Donnell had "decent" legal support, and that her campaign had revised a lot of its financial reports.
"I think what they did was recognize that some errors were made and since then did what they could to correct them, and that none of them were serious enough for her to do jail time," Keegan said.
Abbott, in addition to asking for a federal investigation of Sloan, wrote Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden asking for a state investigation of Keegan for possible perjury.
CREW alleged in its complaint that O'Donnell, who has waged three consecutive U.S. Senate campaigns since 2006, had misspent more than $20,000 in campaign funds.
Keegan and another former campaign worker, Kristin Murray, alleged last year that O'Donnell routinely used political contributions to pay personal expenses such as meals, gas and rent.
Murray recorded an automated phone call for the Delaware Republican Party just before last year's primary, accusing O'Donnell of "living on campaign donations - using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt."
O'Donnell has maintained that the accusations were politically motivated and stoked by disgruntled former campaign workers.
Last month, O'Donnell announced that the FEC had dismissed a separate complaint filed against her by the Delaware Republican Party.
In that complaint, filed just days before her stunning primary win over then-Republican congressman Mike Castle, the GOP alleged that O'Donnell and the California-based Tea Party Express were violating FEC rules that restrict coordination between candidates and outside political organizations.
FEC attorneys recommended in a March report that the commission find reason to believe that election laws had been broken by O'Donnell, her campaign committee and campaign treasurer, as well as the Tea Party Express and its treasurer. The FEC attorneys found grounds that the parties had made, accepted and failed to report excessive in-kind contributions in the form of coordinated expenditures.
But the commission deadlocked 3-3 along partisan lines on whether to accept the recommendations of the FEC's office of general counsel, ending the investigation.