Curt Weldon, the ten-term Republican Congressman from suburban Philadelphia, believes there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He claims a secret Pentagon unit, Able Danger, identified 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta two years before the World Trade Center attacks and covered it up. He wrote a book last year alleging that Iran was plotting to hit the US homeland.
Now he has uncovered yet another conspiracy: The Bush Justice Department is out to get him, even at the cost of Republicans losing the House.
On the night of Friday, October 13, news broke that the FBI was investigating Weldon for using his stature as vice chair of the House Armed Service Committee to steer nearly $1 million in contracts from Russian and Serbian businesses to his daughter and right-hand man, between 2002 and 2004. Those implicated include two Serbian brothers linked to dictator Slobodan Milosevic; a Russian energy company, Itera, with a notoriously cloudy business history; and an obscure Russian aerospace manufacturer, Saratov Aviation Plant, that “quite unexpectedly” caught Weldon’s eye, according to a company official. At the time of the contracts, Weldon’s daughter, Karen, was a 29-year-old consulting novice. Her associate, local political boss and longtime Weldon ally Charles Sexton Jr., claimed “no special knowledge of Eastern Europe,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and spoke no foreign languages. Weldon’s interventions on their behalf were first disclosed by the Los Angeles Times in 2004. Three days after the October 13 story, FBI agents raided six locations as part of the probe, including the homes of Karen Weldon and Sexton. The Washington Post subsequently reported that evidence had been presented to a grand jury and wiretaps obtained for Washington-area cellphones.
Three weeks before election day, an FBI investigation was the last thing Weldon needed. Even before details of the probe emerged, Weldon had found himself in a close race for the first time since he was elected to Congress in 1986. His opponent, retired Navy Vice Admiral Joe Sestak, who served as director of defense policy at the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, had raised more money than Weldon and assembled an impressive grassroots organization with 2,000 volunteers. The once-solidly GOP Philadelphia suburbs were becoming more independent–going for Democrats in the last four presidential elections–and President Bush’s approval rating lurked at 33 percent in the area. Moreover, the vaunted local Republican political machine in Weldon’s stronghold of Delaware County, featured in political science textbooks as the conservative equivalent to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Chicago, was showing signs of wear. The race was neck-and-neck, with both parties spending heavily.