which Katz gets the money. There is no indication that the Katzes, or Sessions for that matter, face any sort of prosecution or investigation for what was basically a common, nickeland-dime dodge in a civil lawsuit. But the most enduring result of the case may dwell in the unflattering questions it raises about an incumbent congressman with a track record of ethical ambiguities that has managed to stay below the radar of North Texas voters. “It wasn’t the kind of thing you’d expect a congressman to get involved with,” said one of Ahron Katz’s many lawyers. “It was a fraud within a fraud within a fraud.” Sessions, through his staff, ignored repeated requests for clarification of his role in the case. Telephone calls to his press secretary and chief of staff went unreturned. But in Dallas and Washington, where his judgment is questioned by members of his own party, the case may mean political problems for a congressman one senior colleague refers to as “that brat;’ and others derisively describe as “Teflon Pete.” For a conservative Republican, Sessions has never been an especially cautious guy. He is persistent, relentlessly ambitious, and, at times, a bit rash. He was buffoonish enough as a college student to get arrested for streaking; bold enough to bolt 14 years ago from a comfortable life as a glad-hander for Southwestern Bell to enter politics; and brash enough to haul a trailer of horse manure around North Dallas in his first effort to unseat congressional incumbent Democrat John Bryant. The smelly stunt, designed to dramatize deficiencies in the Sessions in a close but unsuccessful effort to join the wave of Republicans gaining seats in Congress in 1994. By the time he broke through on his third try in 1996, he carried an enduring image of idiosyncrasy and luck. Sessions is 52, and after 11 years in Congress, his career arc should be ascending. He won his last election by 56 percent at a time when Republicans in Dallas were being overrun by an astonishing wave of Democrats. In 2004, after the bitter Republican redistricting engineered by former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Sessions all but vaulted over other potential candidates to take onand defeatthe formidable, longtime incumbent Democrat Martin Frost. But Sessions’ fortunes have been stalled for some time. He is still the fourth-ranking member of the House Rules Committee, where he’s been since beginning his career in Congress. He’s developed a reputation for political mediocrity, questionable decision-making, and the occasional bonehead move. He failed in a bid to become chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Lobbyists from both parties say he falls into what may be the most perplexing of political categories: irrelevant. “The Rules Committee is for slackers?” says a Washingtonbased Republican lobbyist who asked that his name not be used. “All it really means is that he’s considered a good guy who can be trusted. “He used to be a young man in a hurry. But young men in a hurry become middle-aged men in a hurry pretty quickly;’ he adds. “That seems to be what’s happened to Pete Sessions?’ To make matters worse, Sessions has in recent years flirted with scandal. At best, it was heavy flirtation. In late 2001 and early 2002, he signed letters to Bush administration officials on behalf of tribal casino interests represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Sessions also traveled to Malaysia on a trip funded by a sham think tank created by Michael Scanlon, Abramoff’s partner in crime. As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Sessions has been accused of promoting the interests of a California software firm that employed his former communications director. The company received at least one Navy Department contract for $800,000, and its officers, in turn, contributed at least $55,000 to Sessions’ political action committee, known as PETE PAC. These well-documented transactions prompted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a progressive watchdog group, to file an ethics complaint a year ago with the Justice Department. The complaint seems to have gone nowhere within the politically tainted department, but questions about Sessions lingerif not about his honesty, then about his personal and political judgment. “Mr. Sessions traded power for money;’ says Naomi Seligman Steiner of CREW. “To help one Indian tribe profit from its casinos, he suddenly decided he believed that gambling was evil, something he’d apparently never believed before. It leaves one to wonder if Mr. Sessions is paid every time he discovers a new value:’ Matt Angle, a longtime Democratic operative and a former staffer to Frost, says, “I honestly don’t think he’s .a crook.” \(It was Angle’s Web site, The Lone Star Project, that revealed “From the paid-for trips and all the other political favors, he just acts like a guy who wants desperately to be part of the team. He just wants to please and doesn’t much care about what he has to do to do it.” After arriving in Dallas in the early 1970s, Ahron Katz ran a successful plumbing business and became a minor celebrity with his company’s personalized radio ads. Active in Dallas Republican circles and the city’s social scene, the Katzes were precisely the kind of people Sessions apparently likes to please. They were generous campaign contributorsgiving $10,000 between them to Sessions since 1999and Sessions and the Katzes seem to have enjoyed each other’s company. “There was no air of formality … ,” Sessions said in his deposition. “I had a very good friendship with both of them.” The congressman was available to help the Katzes with even the most trivial problems. When American Airlines refused to allow the couple’s dog into the cabin when they traveled, Sessions called the airline and fixed the problem. So when the Katzes were figuring out how to hide their assets, Sessions was apparently not surprised to get a call. continued on page 20 APRIL 20, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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