WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has closed their investigation into whether a California congressman improperly steered tens of millions of dollars in spending projects to clients of a friend and former colleague.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said on Friday that the office recently informed the attorney for Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis that it has closed a criminal investigation. Mrozek said declined to comment further.
Lewis, a longtime member of Congress and one of its most powerful appropriators, has denied wrongdoing since the investigation became public some four years. The investigation ends at an opportune time for Lewis. He is vying to return as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and GOP lawmakers are likely to make a decision next week.
Federal prosecutors in California were looking into spending projects that Lewis directed to clients of lobbyist Bill Lowery, a former congressman. Some of those clients also donated to Lewis' re-election campaigns and his political action committee.
The prosecutors had issued subpoenas that sought details about how communities and businesses in Lewis' Southern California district chose to hire Lowery's firm, how much they paid and what kind of communications the firm and Lewis had.
"The DOJ response confirms what I've known from Day 1 — that the facts and the truth of this matter will ultimately prevail," Lewis said in statement. "I look forward to continuing to focus all my efforts on cutting government spending and getting our nation onto a responsible and sustainable fiscal path."
A Washington watchdog group was highly critical of the decision to end the investigation. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics maintained that Lewis had used his office to steer earmarks to some of his biggest campaign donors.
"Exactly what will a politician have to do for the Department of Justice to sit up and take notice," the group's executive director, Melanie Sloan, asked rhetorically.