Former GOP Rep. Doolittle, figure in Abramoff scandal, says Justice has closed his case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former California Rep. John Doolittle, who retired from Congress while under investigation in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, said Friday that the Justice Department has closed its case against him and will not pursue charges.

"I have been praying for this day for years," the Republican told The Associated Press by phone from his Virginia home.

Doolittle, who retired two years ago after nine terms in the House, said that a Justice Department official informed his attorney of the development last week. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment.

It comes as the yearslong investigation into the dealings of Abramoff, a former top GOP lobbyist, winds down. Abramoff himself was released to a halfway house this week after serving nearly four years in federal prison on fraud, corruption and conspiracy charges.

Abramoff's cooperation led to guilty pleas from Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles and more than a dozen others.

Doolittle, who was friends with Abramoff and helped some of the lobbyist's clients, spent years under investigation.

The connection the Justice Department appeared most interested in was a $5,000-per-month event-planning job that Doolittle's wife, Julie, did for Abramoff's firm. Her pay totaled $66,690.

After the FBI raided his home in 2007 he was forced to give up his seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee. With a Democrat mounting a strong challenge in his Northern California district, the pressure became too much and Doolittle decided to step down.

"I finally got to the point I couldn't fight the war on two fronts, waging a campaign against my Democrat opponent coming up, and basically fighting the Justice Department's efforts to wrongly prosecute me," Doolittle said Friday.

He said he did nothing wrong and has no regrets about any of his actions. "I look forward to being able to finally throw off this uncertainty, get rid of this defamatory cloak that's been cast over me by my own government," he said.

The job for Doolittle's wife figures in an ongoing remnant of the Abramoff scandal: The prosecution of Doolittle's former legislative director Kevin Ring, who later went to work with Abramoff as a lobbyist. Ring was accused of buying government officials expensive meals and tickets in exchange for helping his clients, and of lying about his knowledge that Abramoff arranged the event-planning job. Doolittle was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Ring's trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial last year and a retrial is set for next month. He was only the second person implicated in the scandal to fight criminal charges at trial rather than plead guilty and cut a deal in exchange for the possibility of a reduced sentence.