For a man who says he has found inner peace through meditation and study under the Dalai Lama, former Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio has an awful lot of anger. The once-powerful House chairman, who was forced out of office by scandal in 2006 and spent 11 months in federal prison, now has given powerful voice to that anger in a memoir coming out this week.
The book’s 377 pages are packed with insider criticisms of some of Washington’s biggest names of the past two decades. The targets for the longtime GOP officeholder are almost all fellow Republicans, including current House Speaker John Boehner; former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; the assistant attorney general who prosecuted him; Republican strategist Karl Rove; former President George W. Bush; former Vice President Dick Cheney; former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay; and Sen. John McCain.
Surprisingly, Ney praises the federal judge who sentenced him, and he exhibits more sadness than anger toward super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the man responsible for his downfall.
In the book, Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill, Ney does not shield himself from criticism. He writes a lot about his out-of-control drinking but insists he is not blaming his problems on alcoholism. He proudly notes he has not had a drink since Sept. 13, 2006, 30 days before he pleaded guilty to onecharge of making false statements and one charge of “honest services fraud” for accepting gifts, trips, meals, and drinks from Abramoff.
Before the book, Ney had talked extensively about his situation only once, in a 2010 interview with National Journal Daily. In that interview, he joked that before overcoming his anger, “I could have computerized my resentment list.” In some ways, this book is that list.
Ney’s most dramatic accusations are against his fellow Ohioan John Boehner, the man he once saw as his biggest rival to someday being speaker. He describes Boehner as “a bit lazy” and “a man who was all about winning and money. He was a chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker who was more interested in the high life--golf, women, cigarettes, fun, and alcohol.” He said Boehner “spent almost all of his time on fundraising, not policy.” He “golfed, drank constantly, and took the easy way legislatively.” Ney recalled Boehner handing out checks on the House floor and said his ties with a tobacco company were so tight that lawmakers could get free cigarettes from Boehner’s office. His golfing, Ney said, was “nonstop” and “paid for by lobbyists.”
Ney wrote: “If the Justice Department were ever to make John produce receipts for his addiction to golf just for the years from 1995 to 2004, he would be hard-pressed to comply. John got away with more than any other Member on the Hill.”
The most inflammatory accusation against Boehner in the book is Ney’s contention that he ended his reelection campaign after winning the primary in 2006 only after Boehner, then the majority leader, summoned the cash-strapped and embattled congressman to his office and told him if he quit the race, Boehner would take care of him. “If you resign the next day, I will personally guarantee you a job comparable to what you are making, and raise legal defense money for you that should bury all this Justice Department problem for you,” Boehner said, according to Ney. He said he pressed Boehner, repeating the terms and getting assurance that the offer was “ironclad.” When Ney called back the next day to accept the deal, he wrote that he again repeated the terms to Boehner, who agreed. “Because of Boehner’s promise, I stepped aside,” he wrote. But Ney said Boehner did not keep his word. “I had been lied to and ditched,” Ney said.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel questioned Ney’s accusations. “This is a convicted felon with a history of failing to tell the truth, making a lot of baseless accusations to try and sell books,” Steel said in a statement to National Journal Daily. “More than anything else, it's sad. Congressman Boehner urged his friend to resign and deal with his personal and legal issues. The allegations that a resignation was traded for specific promises are untrue.”
The book captures the remarkable rise to power of Ney, who in 1976 found himself the third-youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention; built the GOP from nothing in a heavily Democratic district; became one of the most powerful members of the Ohio Legislature; and then, in 1995, the first Republican to represent his district in Washington in 55 years. In the House, he rose rapidly to become chairman of the House Administration Committee, with enormous sway over the budgets allocated to other lawmakers.
But almost from the start, there was the drinking. “My problem with alcohol became an alcohol problem on steroids from 2005 to 2006, escalating into blackouts, anger, depression, extreme sadness. You name it, I experienced it. I had been a drinker through the years, but I had been drinking more and more.” The book includes a section written by his former chief of staff, Matt Parker. He wrote that in 2005, “Bob went from being a functional alcoholic to a raging alcoholic. He smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day and would drink beer all day long, starting with beer in his coffee cup early in the morning.”
Ney blamed the drinking for his failure to declare all his gambling winnings in a London trip. “I was a functional alcoholic who was hurting myself--using bad judgment and not thinking clearly. This gave the [Justice] Department the leverage they needed to pressure me on the Abramoff case.”
He blasts prosecutor Alice S. Fisher as “undoubtedly the most covert, manipulative, cunning, stealth, vicious, cold-hearted instrument of evil that Karl Rove and the Bush administration had.” He wrote that she “along with Alberto Gonzales, Andy Card, Karl Rove, and President Bush shredded the Constitution of the United States and did as they pleased.” He blames his decision to take a plea on his inability to come up with the $3 million he would need to pay his attorneys. “Through leaks, the government of the United States knowingly fabricated and made overblown statements about not all, but some of the facts of the case. In order to bring this to an end, I made a plea, fully aware that the leaks were at times overblown and untrue.”
Ney reveals in his book that before taking the plea he planned a dramatic public suicide to shed light on the prosecutors’ tactics. “After a night of drinking ... I concluded that it was better for my children financially if I were to die before going broke,” he wrote, adding, “I planned to do it right in front of the Department of Justice building with a letter in my pocket and one in the mail to the media, just in case someone from Justice found it on me and disposed of it.” He said he considered the plan “unique, perfect, and damning--the ultimate payback to Bush and Gonzales.” But the night before he was going to do it, friends and his lawyers intervened and got him to enter alcoholism treatment at the Cleveland Clinic.
Ney, now 58 and working as a talk-show host for Talk Radio News Service, says he wrote the book “as a way to atone for my sins” and to help people “understand what is really going on in the halls of the shiny Capitol I so love.”
Of his own actions, he wrote, “In dealing with Jack Abramoff, I crossed the line. It was not direct bribery and we could not be charged with that, but it surely was not good, nor was it legal. I ate and drank free at his expense, traveled with him to Scotland, and threw the ethics laws to the wind.” He said he could rationalize his actions. “Nevertheless, whichever way I look at it, it was wrong, illegal, unethical, and immoral.” Despite his complaints about the prosecutors, he concludes that he did things “that I am absolutely responsible for and could have stopped in a New York minute with a snap of a finger. I am the one to blame--not Jack Abramoff.... A person cannot be corrupted by someone. I was the one who allowed it to happen.”
In a surprise twist, he disclosed that he considered a political comeback last year when friends urged him to run for his old seat in Ohio. “It was tempting in 2012.... However, the motivation and the timing for me to run just weren’t there,” he wrote. He also might have had a tough time fitting in with his fellow Republicans--he boasts that, in 2008, he proudly voted for President Obama.