WASHINGTON - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said yesterday that he will provide records from his 2006 Senate campaign in Maryland to the FBI in an effort to speed an apparent federal probe into allegations of improper campaign spending.
Steele confirmed that his sister, Monica Turner of Potomac, was recently contacted by FBI agents looking into allegations that his campaign paid a company she owned more than $37,000 in 2007 for campaign work that was never performed. The allegations were made by Steele's former campaign finance chairman last year in an unsuccessful attempt to gain a more lenient prison sentence after his fraud conviction in an unrelated case.
In his first public comments on the issue, Steele described the transfer of records to the FBI as voluntary.
"I'm not going to wait for them to come to me. I'm going to take it to them and give them everything that they think they need. And if that's not enough, we'll give them more," Steele told ABC's This Week in an appearance scheduled before the allegations became public.
Steele repeated denials issued by his spokesman earlier in the weekend in response to news reports, first detailed by The Washington Post.
"It's all false," Steele said. "We're being very proactive about this because I'm sick and tired of this 'gotcha' business that The Washington Post and others in the media attempt to engage in."
Steele expressed frustration that the allegations had surfaced barely a week into his term as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. In that position, he is responsible for raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I want to clear up my good name. This is not the way I intend to run the RNC, with this over my head. We're going to dispense with it immediately," he said.
The U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore has refused to comment on whether Steele or his sister are under investigation. However, a spokeswoman has confirmed that a document outlining the allegations against Steele was unintentionally made public.
The allegations were made in March by Alan B. Fabian, who had been finance chairman of Steele's 2006 campaign in Maryland, in an effort to get a reduced sentence for his part in a $40 million fraud scheme.
Steele said Fabian's inability to cut a deal with prosecutors showed that there was "no credibility" to the allegations. But Fabian's defense lawyer, in the sentencing document, claimed that Fabian got no credit for cooperating with prosecutors "presumably because its investigation is ongoing."
Steele said that $37,000 paid to a company owned by his sister was "a legitimate reimbursement of expenses." The payment, for catering and Web services, was made in December 2007, more than 11 months after his sister folded the company.
"At the time when the checks were written back to her to reimburse her, she just said, 'Go ahead and write the checks to the company,' because the company had, you know, done the services that were provided," said Steele, an attorney who practiced corporate law during the 1990s. "There are many companies out there that dissolve and still receive payment for services that are rendered, and so forth."
Among the unanswered questions surrounding the incident is why an investigation into Steele's finances might have become more active about the same time that his political career was getting a huge boost with his election to head the RNC.
The former lieutenant governor said federal agents recently contacted his sister "for purposes of closing out this matter. ... The FBI is now in the position of winding this thing" up.
Steele contended that "if there were any funny business" involved with his 2006 Senate campaign, it would have been caught by other federal agencies before now. He said he had not been contacted personally by the FBI.