Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper dropped a bombshell--Congressman Vern Buchanan is in very hot water. Buchanan is the target ofat least four investigations by both Congress and the FBI. Most of them center around his business practices at the auto dealerships where he made most of his fortune, as well as the manner in which he financed his three successful bids in FL-13 (now FL-16--see update). The one that could cause the most problems for him, though, involves allegations that he tried to get one of his former business partners, Sam Kazran, not to talk to federal investigators.
"I respected him," Kazran says of their early years together. "I believed him."Kazran claims that he helped call dozens of employees, many of whom had never even donated to a political campaign before. The FEC initially found that Buchanan had broken the law, but later backtracked and said it was "more likely than not" that he broke the law. While the FEC probe was underway, Kazran says that Buchanan tried to get him to sign an affidavit saying that Buchanan knew nothing about the scheme in return for a $2.9 million settlement. Although Kazran was in desperate financial straits at the time--both he and his wife were facing astronomical medical bills--he turned the offer down and went to the FBI, who is now investigating Buchanan for witness tampering.
But Kazran says he was naive, and that he soon found out the man he believed in was interested in only two things: money and power.
"Mr. Buchanan is a very selfish person, and in my opinion people who go to Congress have got to do good for the people they represent," Kazran says.
Kazran presented to CNN the same information, documents and testimony he has given to federal investigators. The two men had a falling out over their finances, and they've been suing each other for years. Buchanan says Kazran is a disgruntled partner and has lied about what happened.
At the center of Kazran's allegations is a cash swap scheme used to finance some of Buchanan's campaigns. He says employees were forced to write checks, then were reimbursed with cash drawn from Buchanan's car dealerships.
Watch the full piece here:
Buchanan refused to answer any questions on the record. However, he won't be able to stay silent for long. Congress is also looking into the issue.
A few weeks ago, the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics released a report which found that Buchanan had likely tried to influence Kazran's testimony in violation of both federal law and House ethics rules. The House Ethics Committee is running its own investigation.
Buchanan's only response on the record has been to continue to try to muzzle Kazran. On Friday afternoon, his lawyers tried to get all records in the Kazran case sealed and to impose a gag order on Kazran and his legal team. Kazran's lawyer, Robert Stok, rightly calls this an attack on his client's right to free speech.
Buchanan is head of financing for the NRCC--a pretty high-profile billet for a third-term congressman. Given the gravity of the charges against him, it says a lot about the ethical standards of the Republican caucus that Buchanan is still in this position.
Update: It's been mentioned in the comments that Buchanan's Sarasota-based district has been renumbered as FL-16 as a result of Florida's congressional map being almost completely renumbered. Duly updated.