Rep. Don Young offered a spirited defense of his 2005 $10 million Coconut Road interchange appropriation last week in Congress.
With the Coconut Road earmark part of an appropriation and technical amendments spending bill, the House joined the Senate in calling for a Justice Department investigation of both the earmark and Young's role in it.
So where does this leave us?
AN INEFFECTIVE GESTURE?
Both houses of Congress have called for a federal investigation of one of their own. That's highly unusual. But how thorough and effective will a Justice Department investigation be?
Skeptics argue that the votes are more theater than genuine action. That's because of the Speech or Debate clause in the Constitution limits what legislative material the executive branch might seek or use at trial or other legal proceeding.
Besides, the Justice Department already appears to be investigating the Coconut Road appropriation.
So are the House and Senate votes simply a way to pass the buck to Justice and avoid Sen. Tom Coburn's call for a bipartisan congressional investigation?
Let Justice proceed -- and let's have Congress take its own hard look, with subpoena power and little delay.
$40,000 FOR THE EARMARK?
Rep. Young still has not addressed the campaign contributions from people with a stake in the Coconut Road earmark -- $40,000, some raised before the earmark was inserted, some raised after.
One of those who gave and who helped organize a fundraiser for Rep. Young was his friend Dan Aronoff, who owns property along Coconut Road and stood to gain by the earmark for the interchange with Interstate 75.
Remember the duck -- if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, etc., then chances are it's a duck. Forty grand in campaign contributions wrapped around an earmark inserted after Congress had already voted on a massive transportation bill quacks like Donald.
Rep. Young argues his earmark had local support. He says Florida Rep. Connie Mack backed it (a claim that Rep. Mack disputes). He says Florida Gulf Coast University wanted the interchange to improve hurricane evacuation.
But why were transportation planners in Lee County surprised at the earmark? They thought the money was for widening I-75.
Rep. Young said the planners were just one of the groups involved, and while he didn't agree with their position, he's agreed to an amendment that puts the $10 million back to I-75 widening.
WHAT ABOUT THAT 'TECHNICAL CHANGE'?
Was the after-the-vote insertion of the earmark language an honest technical change, as Rep. Young said?
He didn't personally make the change; apparently one of his staffers did. But some of Rep. Young's colleagues in both houses are not persuaded that this was a correction to reflect the intent of Congress, but may have been an after-the-fact change to help campaign contributors.
This one is a matter for Congress, not the Justice Department, to deal with.
WHY $1.1 MILLION FOR LAWYERS?
Alaskans still have reason to wonder why Rep. Young has spent $1.1 million on lawyers.
Let's be clear -- Rep. Young has not been charged with any wrongdoing, has not been indicted for anything. But a majority of his colleagues voted to investigate him. The suspicion, naturally, is that there's more than what Rep. Young called "innuendo" to investigate.
Rep. Young took the floor of the House last week and declared his innocence. That doesn't settle the matter.
Last month we argued for one investigation or the other, as long as it cleared the air. Let's be sure. Both Congress and Justice should investigate -- the sooner the better.
BOTTOM LINE: Both Congress and the Justice Department should take a hard look at the Coconut Road deal.