One day after his campaign manager, his handpicked legislative candidate and another GOP aide were indicted in a scheme to swing a pivotal Assembly election, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said Saturday he knew about the plan beforehand but advised against carrying it through.
It's the first time Rohrabacher (R--Huntington Beach) has publicly acknowledged knowing in advance of a Republican scheme to manipulate the outcome last year in the 67th Assembly District race. GOP aides helped draft Democrat Laurie Campbell to split her party's vote and help ensure victory for Rohrabacher's chosen candidate, Scott Baugh.
Rohrabacher said that when he learned of the plan, he told his GOP campaign manager that it "seemed underhanded." He said he advised Rhonda Carmony, his campaign manager, against it.
The congressman said the aides drafted Campbell anyway while he was out of the country. Campbell was eventually thrown off the ticket by a judge, and Baugh won the race.
"I advised her not to do it," Rohrabacher said. "These kids were trying to save the [Republican] party."
Rohrabacher added that it was "perfectly legal" to draft a candidate into the race, even though it might look inappropriate.
Baugh, 33, was indicted Friday on four felonies and 18 misdemeanors for allegedly concealing campaign contributions and persuading another person to lie under oath. Carmony was indicted on three felonies for allegedly falsifying campaign documents to foster Campbell's candidacy. Also indicted was Baugh's chief of staff, Maureen Werft, for allegedly lying on her ballot application and voting in Baugh's district even though she did not live there.
Three other GOP workers have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for their role in the plan.
Rohrabacher and Baugh spoke Saturday at a press conference at Baugh's office in Huntington Beach. The two used the occasion to lambaste Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi for his role in the investigation.
Baugh would not answer questions about details alleged in the indictment against him.
Baugh attacked Capizzi for engaging in what he called a politically motivated prosecution against him. Baugh charged that Capizzi timed the indictment to coincide with Tuesday's election, in which he faces two Republican challengers.
"I've been charged with perjury for a document I didn't sign. I've been charged with perjury for a document I didn't read," said Baugh, flanked by dozens of supporters.
"The district attorney is not interested in truth," Baugh said. "He is interested in grandstanding before the community for his own failure to investigate the bankruptcy and catch it before we lost $2 billion."
State GOP Vice Chairman Michael Schroeder, who also appeared at the press conference, called Capizzi's actions "unprecedented," saying that no one in California had ever been charged criminally for what he characterized as minor paperwork mistakes possibly committed by Baugh.
Rohrabacher said the same, and added that some of Capizzi's aides had inquired into the sexual activities of GOP campaign workers.
"It is nothing but an underhanded political maneuver," Rohrabacher said. "I know that Scott Baugh will be reelected."
Capizzi could not be reached for comment Saturday, but his office has repeatedly denied a political motive behind the investigation. On Friday, he pointed out that he was enforcing the state's Political Reform Act, which was passed by voter initiative.
Capizzi, like Rohrabacher and Baugh, is a Republican.
The day of Baugh's indictment, Capizzi strongly defended his office's action.
"There were Republicans in that race who were victims," Capizzi said of the efforts to manipulate the election. "And it victimized the supporters of Mr. Baugh, who abused the trust they placed in him."