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U.S. Rep. David Rivera denies wrongdoing as fellow Republicans fret over controversy

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Washington and Miami are growing increasingly anxious about the ongoing state investigation into U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, with some urging him to explain his finances while others are already talking of potential GOP successors to replace him.

House Republicans have said privately they're frustrated with the drumbeat of media attention surrounding the freshman lawmaker. This week, House Speaker John Boehner was confronted with a question about Rivera at a Capitol Hill news conference, while a prominent Republican attorney in Miami called for Rivera to fully explain himself or "step down."

In a letter to the Miami Herald, Thomas Spencer, who is active in Miami-Dade and state Republican politics, said Rivera needs to "fully and completely, without delay or obfuscation, disgorge and fully explain every single relevant fact and document — or he needs to step down."

Spencer, a co-counsel for former President George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount, said he plans to call on top Republicans to ask Rivera to release more details about the investigation. "It's time for us to step up to the bat and put pressure on him to get him to fork over every single document," he said Friday.

Rivera's congressional campaign said in a statement that he's "reassured'' colleagues and congressional leaders and is "confident he has not committed any wrongdoing whatsoever."

The campaign included a copy of Rivera's 2010 federal financial disclosure, which had been submitted to the House days before his swearing in, calling it "a testament to his pursuit of complete financial transparency and accountability."

Sen. Marco Rubio, a close personal and political friend, has sought to keep a distance, telling Florida reporters at a roundtable that he only knows what he's read. "When something like that is happening, you generally let the process work itself through," he said. "I have confidence in our judicial process."

Rivera and Rubio are scheduled next month to host the Miami-Dade GOP's Lincoln Day dinner.

Prosecutors and detectives from several agencies — the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, the Miami-Dade Police Department's public corruption squad and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — began investigating Rivera's finances before he was elected to Congress in November.

At the heart of the probe is Millennium Marketing, a company owned by Rivera's mother and godmother that received $510,000 from the Flagler Dog Track as part of a deal for Rivera to lead a pro-slots political campaign on behalf of the parimutuel.

Rivera, who had long denied receiving any money from the dog track, earlier this month admitted to receiving $132,000 in undisclosed loans from Millennium — loans Rivera says he has since repaid.

Also under investigators' microscope: Rivera's campaign expenses, including $30,000 he paid to Millennium for consulting in 2006, and $75,000 he paid last year to a now-defunct consulting company owned by the daughter of a longtime aide. Rivera has denied any wrongdoing.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Rivera paid himself nearly $60,000 in unexplained campaign reimbursements over the eight years he served in the state Legislature.

House Republicans, furious with the allegations, said there's talk of a list of Republicans who could run for a special election if Rivera is forced to resign.

Former state Sen. Alex Villalobos said he has been asked about running for the seat, but isn't interested and wouldn't say who approached him.

"David did it to himself," Villalobos said of the chatter about recruiting candidates. He noted that "everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty," but added that what party leaders have to decide is if Rivera is still electable.

"The question is whether or not he's damaged enough that he can adequately represent that district," Villalobos said.

Former state Rep. J.C. Planas said he and others are considering a challenge.

"Obviously I think we can do better as a community," said Planas, an attorney who left office because of term limits.

"Nobody is entitled to their seat," he added. "If for some reason somebody is to tarnish that privilege, it is anybody's right to say they can do better."

Republican strategist Ana Navarro said Rivera is telling friends he's done nothing illegal "and is confident that this too shall pass."

"No matter how many big-wig Republicans in D.C. and Florida fret and cringe over this developing situation, David isn't going anywhere any time soon," Navarro said. "If people think that David can be pressured into giving up his seat while this plays out, they don't know David Rivera."

Democrats, who in 2008 and 2010 launched aggressive attempts to capture the congressional seat, are pointing to Rivera to accuse House Republicans — who promised a ''zero-tolerance policy'' on ethics — of showing hypocrisy.

The chatter about Rivera was enough to draw in Boehner and other top Republicans.

"As I understand the allegations against Mr. Rivera, they don't involve any of his congressional service," Boehner said at a news conference Wednesday. "These were activities that took place before he was elected. And I think we're waiting to see how this plays out."

U.S. Rep. David Rivera denies wrongdoing as fellow Republicans fret over controversy 01/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 7:42pm]
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