An actual Olympic torch at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. Mitt Romney doled out a commemorative version now selling on eBay for hundreds, or thousands of dollars.
WASHINGTON -- The Florida Democratic Party is pouncing on a minor scandal involving Mitt Romney and Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), vowing to locate a gift Romney once bestowed to the lawmaker in order to use it against him in the November election. But tracking down the controversial item could prove difficult, according to a Capitol Hill staffer.
As HuffPost reported on Thursday, Young is one of a handful of Republican politicians Romney met with following the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, presenting each with a replica Olympic torch. Since the souvenir torches now sell on eBay for hundreds, or thousands of dollars, it is possible that such a gift could potentially run afoul of congressional rules barring members from accepting gifts worth more than $50, depending on how House leaders interpret the original value of the torch.
When HuffPost asked Young about the torch, he acknowledged receiving it, indicating that he still had the torch in his possession. When asked about House gift rules, Young changed his story.
"It wasn't a gift," Young said. "It was to have in the possession of the Congress. It wasn't a gift, wasn't a gift to me. I don't even know where it is."
A few questions later, Young shifted his story again. "We have whatever it was at the Appropriations Committee."
Young chaired the Appropriations Committee from 1999 to 2005, when Romney was seeking federal funds for the Olympics, and still holds a seat on the powerful committee. A total of $1.3 billion in federal money was spent on the 2002 Olympics, more than twice the amount spent on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. It is frowned upon in Washington for lobbyists and other interested parties to present gifts to the chairs of committees they do business with. The Appropriations Committee is responsible for distributing federal funds to various projects, making its chairman an extremely powerful person on Capitol Hill.
The Florida Democratic Party has been targeting Young for months, noting that his Republican affiliation in a district that went 53 percent for Barack Obama in 2008 should make him vulnerable. The Democrats have already incorporated Torchgate into their talking points.
"Bill Young should answer these questions," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman David Bergstein. "He should say where the torch is. He should say whether he violated House ethics rules." Bergstein said the torch incident indicates that Young is "out of touch" with the district -- a theme that both the Florida Democratic Party and the campaign for challenger Jessica Ehrlich have been deploying against Young lately.
"We're gonna find this torch," Bergstein added.
That could prove difficult. The torch is not displayed in any public hearing rooms used by the Appropriations Committee, and Ryan Nickel, a spokesman for the Democratic side of the committee, said he doubts that the torch is actually in committee hands.
"I worked in the majority and have been through both majority and minority storage space and never came across an Olympic torch," Nickel told HuffPost.
Young's office and the Republican side of the House Appropriations Committee declined to comment for this story.
It is extremely unlikely that any official wing of the House or Senate would initiate any formal censure against the lawmakers over a silly torch. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who also received a torch from Romney, laughed off questions about whether he was concerned about the possibility of being taken to task for violating Senate gift rules.
But Young's connection to the Olympics is less politically appealing than Hatch's. Hatch represents the state where the 2002 event took place.
The Romney campaign declined to comment for this story.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pushed back, again, on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's claims that he hasn't paid taxes in a decade.
WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney insisted on Friday that he has paid taxes every year and repeated that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needs "to put up or shut up" with his accusations that he hasn't.
"Let me also say categorically: I have paid taxes every year. A lot of taxes. A lot of taxes," the presumptive GOP presidential nominee told reporters at a press availability after an event in Nevada.
"Harry Reid really has to put up or shut up, alright? So Harry, who are your sources?" Romney said, referring to Reid's claim that a Bain Capital investor told him Romney hadn't paid taxes in 10 years.
"And by the way Harry, I understand what you're trying to do. You're trying to deflect the fact that jobs numbers are bad, that Americans are out of work, and you're trying to throw anything up on the screen that will grab attention away from the fact that the policies of the White House haven't worked," Romney continued. "So Harry Reid is simply wrong."
Reid has been going after Romney all week over the candidate's failure to release his tax returns, a standard practice for presidential candidates. The Nevada Democrat sparked a firestorm when, earlier this week, he told The Huffington Post that he heard from a Bain Capital investor that Romney hadn't paid taxes for 10 years.
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Reid's claims were untrue, and Romney himself said Thursday that Reid needs "to put up or shut up" and reveal his source at Bain Capital. Reid fired back that he got his information from "an extremely credible source" and pushed Romney, again, to just release his tax returns.
Pressed on Friday why he wouldn't just release his tax returns instead of engaging in a back-and-forth with Reid, Romney said people should visit his website to see his financial disclosure statements dating back to 2002 and his 2010 tax return.
"Go on the website, you'll be surprised to see the amazing amount of data that's associated with our campaign's disclosure," he said.
Earlier in the day, Reid launched another round of attacks on Romney, this time for "insulting" the American public by refusing to release his tax returns.
"It's hard to say which is more insulting to Americans' intelligence, Mitt Romney's tax plan or his refusal to show the American people what's in his tax returns," Reid said in a statement. "Romney seems to think he's above the basic level of transparency and openness that every presidential candidate has lived up to since his father set the standard in 1968."
"In short, Romney's message to Nevadans is this: He won't release his taxes, but he wants to raise yours."
Reid signaled Friday that he's not relenting in his attacks. He accused Romney of being "the most secretive presidential candidate since Richard Nixon" and pointed out that even nominees overseen by the Senate Finance Committee have to produce more tax returns that Romney is willing to release.
"Forget about president -- Mitt Romney couldn't get confirmed as a cabinet secretary," Reid said. "The contents of the one year of returns he has released would probably be enough to tank his nomination anyway: secret overseas bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, tax avoidance tricks and a lower tax rate than middle-class families pay."
"First time in 77 years there is a possibility that neither the sitting president and vice president, or the candidates for president and vice president have served in the military ... and when I look at the number one title for president of the United States of America is commander in chief, that's what concerns me," West said.
West based his comments on what he sees as Romney's need to fill the holes in his own resume with a running mate.
"I think that whoever Governor Romney is as a presidential candidate, he has to do his own self-assessment, self-analysis and understand 'where are my weaknesses,'" West said. "Therefore, the person that I have running with me as my 'fox-hole buddy,' if I want to put it in military terms, they have to be someone that shores up where I see my weakness are so we can be a really strong command team, leadership team."
West initially laughed when a student asked him to weigh in on a potential GOP vice presidential candidate.
"Oh man, there are cameras on here," West said. The congressman then went on to tamp down any speculation that he himself was ever a potential pick. "I was never being considered," he said.
BOISE, Idaho — Former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig aims to fend off a federal election lawsuit against him by arguing his infamous June 11, 2007, Minneapolis airport bathroom visit that ended in his sex-sting arrest was part of his official Senate business.
Craig is hoping to avoid repaying $217,000 in campaign funds the Federal Election Commission claims he misused to defend himself.
The FEC sued Craig in June in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleging he converted the campaign money to personal use by spending it on his legal defense after he was accused of soliciting sex in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport bathroom. The commission argues Craig's defense had no connection to his campaign for federal office.
Craig counters that money tied to his airport bathroom trip was for neither personal use nor his campaign, but fell under his official, reimbursable duties as senator because he was traveling between Idaho and the nation's capital for work.
He cites a U.S. Senate rule in which reimbursable per diem expenses include all charges for meals, lodging, hotel fans, cleaning, pressing of clothing – and bathrooms.
"Not only was the trip itself constitutionally required, but Senate rules sanction reimbursement for any cost relating to a senator's use of a bathroom while on official travel," wrote Andrew Herman, Craig's lawyer in Washington, D.C., in documents filed Thursday.
In its complaint, the FEC contends the three-term U.S. senator's campaign account, Craig for U.S. Senate, paid at least $139,952 to the law firm Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan in Washington, D.C., and $77,032 to Kelly & Jacobson in Minnesota for legal services related to his guilty plea to disorderly conduct.
An undercover officer said Craig tapped his feet and signaled under a stall divider that he wanted sex.
Regulators voted unanimously in May to pursue the complaint against Craig after informal negotiations failed. They are seeking repayment of the money, as well as fines of up to $6,500 from the former senator and his treasurer, Kaye O'Riordan.
Contacted Friday, FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram cited pending litigation and declined to comment on the case.
Craig didn't return a phone call Friday to his lobbying firm, New West Strategies.
In documents supporting his bid to have the complaint dismissed, Craig cites the case of former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who tapped campaign money in 2006 to defend himself after allegations of improper behavior emerged against him following a Grand Canyon rafting trip with two former male pages.
The trip by Kolbe, the second openly gay Republican to serve in Congress, was an official visit with support provided by the National Park Service.
The FEC concluded that Kolbe's use of the campaign money to pay legal expenses associated with a Department of Justice inquiry regarding the trip were "ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with his duty as a House member."
Craig's lawyer argues that his airport bathroom visit, made while traveling back to Washington, D.C., from his home state, should be seen similarly – and the FEC complaint dismissed with prejudice.
"Simply put, no principled distinction can be drawn between the Kolbe matter and this case," Herman contends. "Sen. Craig's legal expenses arose during official Senate travel, an activity that was part of his constitutionally enumerated duties as a holder of federal office."