Sweeney and Trump: A Match Made In…

In a front page story in the December 16 edition of the Saratogian, it was reported our ex-Congressman John Sweeney has been appointed as one of nine new members of the Trump “transition executive team.”

Conspicuously absent from the article were several events that contributed to his defeat (Kirstin Gillibrand was the winner) and which, in fact, should help him fit in with the Trump team.

Here are some excerpts from the entry for Mr. Sweeney in the Wikipedia page devoted to him.



In September 2006, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its second annual report on members of Congress with ethics issues, titled “Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch)”. Sweeney was one of the 20. The organization said “His ethics issues stem from a ski trip to New York, the exchange of legislative assistance for campaign contributions and the hiring of his wife as a campaign fundraiser.”[21]

Wife as fundraiser

On April 11, 2003, Sweeney began paying a company called Creative Consulting for fund-raising. The company had been founded a day earlier by Gaia “Gayle” Ford. Between April 2003 and December 2003, Sweeney’s campaign paid $42,570 to the firm. Sweeney proposed to Ford in September 2003[27] and married her in 2004.

Sweeney spokeswoman Melissa Carlson said the congressman considers his wife “his best representative in the district when he’s fund-raising.” She said Ford, who had no previous fund-raising experience, receives a 10 percent commission on whatever she raises. Between January 2005 and April 2006, Ford was paid $30,879. Sweeney also has had a fundraising consultant on monthly retainer since June 2004, who is paid $8,583 a month.

Ford also works for Powers & Company, the lobbying firm of former [New York] state GOP Chairman William Powers, Sweeney’s longtime political ally and onetime boss.[28]

 

Ski Trips

The Winter Challenge was started in 1998 by Sweeney’s House predecessor, Gerald Solomon, with the declared purpose of showcasing the Olympic facilities at Lake Placid, New York to congressmen and their staffers in hopes of getting federal funds; Sweeney has hosted the annual event since 1999.

In January 2006, Sweeney, his wife, and about 60 other people spent a four-day weekend at the facilities, competing against each other in skating, downhill skiing and bobsledding events. The group included Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), a close friend of Sweeney[29] and his wife; and aides to U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Representative Randy Kuhl (R-NY), and Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI).[30][31] The weekend cost the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) $27,500, plus in-kind services it provided and the costs of operating the Olympic venues for the competition (exact figures for the latter two were unavailable).[32] ORDA is a part of the New York State government.[33]

In the fall of 2005, the House ethics panel told Sweeney in a letter that he should be careful to let the Olympics groups invite guests to avoid the appearance of an endorsement by the House.[30] “Once the ORDA and the U.S. Olympic Committee — without your involvement — have issued an initial invitation to House members and staff to take part in the trip, you may send a follow-up to that invitation”, the ethics panel, known formally as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, wrote to Sweeney.[33]

Invitations to the event officially come from ORDA and the U.S. Olympic Committee, a nonprofit group chartered by Congress. ORDA says the impetus for the event comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee. The U.S. Olympic Committee said it’s really Sweeney’s event.[30] Three committees of the NY State Assembly have launched investigations of the Challenge, focusing on whether public money was put to good use. ORDA President Ted Blazer, speaking at one such hearing, said Sweeney’s office helped assemble lists of possible invitees to the event.[33]

Documents show that at least eight members of Congress, all Republicans, were also invited to attend the 2006 event but declined.[33]

The official invitation for the event read: “While this trip has proven itself to be an enjoyable one for delegation members in the past, it is, nevertheless, an official trip authorized by the House and Senate Ethics Committees . . . intended to provide an opportunity for Members of Congress and Congressional staff to inspect and evaluate the manner in which federal funds have been used to strengthen the area’s tourism industry.”[30]

Despite the House ethics rule requiring all travel paid by others to relate to members’ official duties, and the ethic panel’s letter that said that recreational activities must be “merely incidental to the trip”, Sweeney has said that the panel said “it’s perfectly appropriate for me to promote the event.”[33]

The group attending the event included at least 15 registered lobbyists, including Pete Card, a former staffer of Sweeney’s and the brother of former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and Lisi Kaufman, a lobbyist for United Technologies Corporation, the sister of Andrew and Pete.[30][31][34] In his request to the House ethics committee, Sweeney did not ask about lobbyists.[35] A spokesman for ORDA said he does not know why the lobbyists were invited.[31]

Seven of the lobbyists had contributed a total of $12,400 to Sweeney’s campaign in 2005.[36]

Disputed domestic violence report

On October 31, 2006, the Albany Times Union reported that it had obtained a document stating that “[t]he wife of U.S. Rep. John Sweeney called police last December to complain her husband was allegedly ‘knocking her around’ during a late-night argument at the couple’s home.” The responding officers filed a domestic incident report. The report states that Sweeney allegedly grabbed his wife “by the neck” and pushed her around the house.[37]

On November 2, 2006, the Albany Times Union reported that on October 31, John and Gaia Sweeney said they would give the New York State Police permission to release a report about the incident. They said that the report was inaccurate but have not disputed its contents.[38] On November 17, 2006, the Times Union reported that there were two versions of the domestic violence report that had been prepared by the State Police, one that was sent to them, doctored and lacking details, and the original report.[39]

On July 22, 2007, the Albany Times Union reported that Gaia Sweeney, who was contesting a divorce action by her husband, said that he was often verbally abusive and at times physically abused her during their marriage. She also said that a statement she made on the eve of last fall’s election, denying marital abuse, was “coerced“. Sweeney denied that he had been abusive; he had recently obtained a judicial order of protection against his wife.[40]

According to the Times-Union (July 22, 2007):

“Sweeney’s first wife, Betty Sweeney, of Schaghticoke, stood up for her former husband in a telephone interview …

“‘I’ve known (John) all these years and I never observed any kind of behavior like that towards me or anybody else,’ said Betty Sweeney, who had three children with him.” [41]

The State Police captain who wrongfully leaked the disputed Sweeney domestic violence report was demoted weeks after the November 2006 election. [42]

November 2007 DWI

Sweeney was charged with aggravated DWI (driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs) when he was arrested by New York State Police at 1:19 a.m. on November 11, 2007. The arrest occurred on the Adirondack Northway, a stretch of Interstate 87 that runs between Albany and Lacolle, Quebec, Canada. A law enforcement source said Sweeney’s car had been swerving and that a 24-year-old woman was seated partially on his lap when spotted by a state trooper.[43] The police reported “he had a woman on his lap when he was pulled over.”[2][44] Sweeney’s blood alcohol content registered at .18 percent, more than double the legal limit.[44] Sweeney issued a statement later that day stating: “I regret the occurrence. I deeply apologize to my family and friends. I take full responsibility and I am hoping to work for a fair resolution.”[43]

On November 14, 2007, Sweeney pleaded guilty to drunk driving after his attorney vocally and publicly denied he had even been drinking that evening. Sweeny paid a US$1,000 fine, but did not have to spend any time in jail. His license was suspended for six months and had to attend a victim impact panel for drunken drivers.[45]

April 2009 DWI

Early on the morning of April 5, 2009, Sweeney was pulled over by state police for speeding.[2] He refused a breathalyzer test ordered by the officer, and according to a newspaper report, “Sweeney allegedly told the officers he would not pass the sobriety test, adding he was in ‘big trouble.'”[2] He was charged with felony DWI, since Sweeney has had a prior DWI conviction within the past 10 years.[2] On August 14, 2009 a grand jury indicted Sweeney on felony charges and he was sentenced on April 23 to 30 days of jail time.

As part of his punishment, Sweeney had to wear a device 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that detects alcohol. He performed 300 hours of community service in the form of pro bono legal work and pay a $1,000 fine, said Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, who handled the case as a special prosecutor

Ties to Allen Stanford

Sweeney was part of a group of lawmakers known as the Caribbean Caucus, sponsored by disgraced financier Allen Stanford. The group, formed to promote relations with Caribbean nations, took 11 trips to places like St. Croix, Montego Bay and Key Biscayne. The meetings, which included receptions with lobster, caviar and wine, were paid for by the Inter-American Economic Council, a non-profit funded by Stanford and totaled $311,307 in costs. Other members of the Caucus included convicted influence peddler Rep. Bob Ney and close Sweeney friend Rep. Pete Sessions. In 2004, Stanford hosted a wedding reception for Sweeney and wife at the Pavilion Restaurant, owned by Stanford. At the time, Sweeney told the Antigua Sun “If it wasn’t for Allen, I certainly would not be here today.”[47]

 

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1 thought on “Sweeney and Trump: A Match Made In…”

  1. Yes John, those details were indeed “conspicuously absent” from the Saratogian front page article. Apparently the Saratogian’s editorial policy has somewhat changed since Babs resigned or was “let go” as managing editor. A prominent attorney’s passing was reported some years ago, and Babs thought it would be a nice send-off to tell the world about his IRS problems. Nice touch Babs.
    Not!!

    Like

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