Alaska Congressman Don Young said Wednesday he's cooperating with the Justice Department but refused to give details or answer questions about his huge legal bills. "I have a right to spend my money as I wish to spend it, and we are going to continue to do what I think we have to do to get this issue behind us," he said.
Young's re-election campaign spent $854,035 on legal fees over the course of 2007.
Young, 74, has been under investigation for his ties to Veco Corp., for fundraising activities and for his role in specific congressional earmarks, according to various media reports. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
"I've cooperated as much as possible through my lawyers," he said at a rare Anchorage news conference.
The news conference got testy as reporters pressed Young for details on his "legal expense fund."
"It's not my prerogative to answer to people who have nothing to do with it. That's you. That's you, " he said.
Jake Metcalfe, a Democrat running for Young's seat, said this week Young has a responsibility to say what legal matters he spent the $854,035 in campaign contributions on.
"I'm not going to answer Jake the snake. I'm not going to answer anybody," Young said. "We'll let the public, they'll make the decisions, not you and not my opponents."
Young said his constituents have not asked him about the legal fees. It's just the media, he said.
A television reporter objected that, as an Alaskan and a voter, he was a constituent.
"Did you vote for me last time?" Young asked him.
"No sir," the reporter replied.
Young said he might answer a constituent. But then he amended that to say "legally I cannot comment" to anyone. Young later indicated he meant his lawyers advised him not to. That is normal for people in the circumstance he's in, Young said. This week his campaign said Young could be seen as trying to influence the investigation if he commented on it.
"When this is all settled, I hope all of you have the great interest in this issue," Young told the reporters. "I hope you all have egg on your face, which I believe. And then I'm going to ask you, 'Where did you come off asking these questions.' "
Young charged there is an effort by "a group" to remove him from office. He said it includes The McClatchy Co., the owner of the Daily News, and the Defenders of Wildlife.
A reporter asked if Young was suggesting such a group was influencing the Justice Department investigation.
"I'm just saying that they are out there purveying dishonest thoughts and ideas," he said.
Young, asked to explain, said the media keeps repeating accusations against him ad nauseam with just a little line added to stories saying he hasn't been charged.
One controversy is how a $10 million Florida earmark was changed from a highway widening project to a controversial interchange study after the bill won final congressional approval.
A real estate developer who wanted the interchange had organized a fundraiser for Young. But Young said he favored the earmark because local residents asked for it.
What exactly happened?
"I have no idea, I have no idea, I have no idea, I have no idea," Young said as questions came.
"All I know is it was asked for, the community asked for it, and I put it in because it was the right thing to do."
Young said he thinks the earmark was in the bill when it came up for a congressional vote. Democratic congressional candidate Diane Benson asked for an investigation of the earmark. So did Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, who is holding up legislation making technical corrections to the 2005 highway bill until it happens.
Young said he wouldn't be running for re-election if thought he had done anything wrong.
He said this congressional race is going to be about who can best represent Alaska.
"I'm still stronger than anybody running against me," Young said. "I've got a better mind than anybody running against me."
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.