Doolittle calls GOP critics ‘weasels’ |

Doolittle calls GOP critics ‘weasels’

WASHINGTON (AP) ” Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., denounced his GOP critics as “weasels” Friday even as his chief of staff appeared before a federal grand jury investigating Doolittle’s ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Doolittle also told reporters on a conference call Friday that he believes the Justice Department’s long-running probe “borders on harassment.”

Prosecutors are investigating connections between Doolittle and Abramoff including payments Doolittle’s wife, Julie, got from Abramoff even after a fundraiser she was paid to plan got canceled.

Doolittle’s chief of staff, Ron Rogers, spent an hour and 20 minutes before a federal grand jury at U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday. His appearance came two days after Doolittle’s scheduler and deputy chief of staff appeared before the same grand jury.

Rogers, who joined Doolittle’s staff early this summer, told The Associated Press after emerging that the questioning was “very procedural.” He said it focused on “general office operations” such as how mail is handled.

“They would have gotten just as much from reading the employee handbook,” Rogers said.

“Nothing that was said today would indicate that they’re going forward or not going forward” with charges against Doolittle, Rogers said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Jaclyn Lesch declined comment.

Doolittle’s role in the Abramoff investigation has brought increasing opposition from fellow Republicans in his conservative Northern California district, especially after the FBI raided the Doolittles’ Virginia home in April.

Two Republicans ” Air Force reservist Eric Egland and Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes ” plan to challenge Doolittle in the party’s primary. GOP Assemblyman Ted Gaines of Roseville has formed an exploratory committee for a possible campaign, and other locally known Republicans are also looking at the race.

Doolittle was re-elected by a slim three percentage-point margin last year even though his district is among the most conservative in California. Charlie Brown, the Democrat who challenged Doolittle last year, formally announced his candidacy for a rematch Friday and already leads the incumbent in fundraising.

Doolittle said Friday that he looks forward to the fight, even in the face of growing unease from party activists and leaders about his re-election chances.

“I will not step aside. I am running again, period,” Doolittle said.

“This is just self-interest on the part of ambitious people,” Doolittle said.

Republicans have paid for polling showing Doolittle way behind, but Doolittle said such critics are “weasels.”

“They really just want me to give up so they can get what they want and you know what? I’m not giving up,” he said defiantly.

At the same time Doolittle was making those comments, Rogers was walking into the grand jury room with his attorney.

The Abramoff influence-peddling investigation already has netted a dozen convictions, including a guilty plea from one congressman, ex-Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

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