MERIDEN, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) - A defiant and emotional Connecticut House Speaker Chris Donovan strongly denied Sunday that he had any knowledge of money trading hands in exchange for legislation as alleged by federal authorities who arrested the one-time finance director of his congressional campaign.
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In his first public comments about the scandal since the arrest of his former aide, Robert Braddock Jr., was announced on Thursday, Donovan met with reporters on the sidewalk outside his campaign headquarters in downtown Meriden.
“At no time did I know that anyone might have been trying to funnel illegal contributions to my campaign,” Donovan said. “No one ever made a deal with me as a quid pro quo.”
He said he learned of the investigation on Wednesday as Braddock was to be arrested, when the FBI called him “out of the blue” for an interview.
Braddock’s arrest, Donovan said, was like “getting punched in the stomach.”
Braddock’s lawyer has said his client is innocent and will plead not guilty.
Gabe Rosenberg, Donovan’s spokesman, interrupted the news conference several times to say the speaker will not discuss details of what he may know about the investigation, including his interview with the FBI.
Rosenberg also said Donovan would refuse to answer questions about Ray Soucy, whom The Hartford Courant reported is one of the unnamed men federal investigators say is a co-conspirator in the scheme to hide the source of contributions to Donovan’s campaign.
The allegations involve “conduit” campaign contributions, which are donations made by one person in the name of another person, and were connected to an effort in April to kill legislation that would have raised taxes and fees on “roll-your-own” smoke shop owners, authorities said.
“No one bought my involvement, my position or my influence on the roll-your-own legislation or any other. Period,” Donovan said.
The bill, which originated in the Senate, and failed in the Senate, never advanced to the House before the legislative session ended May 9, he said.
Donovan drew criticism when his campaign manager answered reporters’ questions on Friday despite calls for the speaker to address the public.
Gov. Dan Malloy, a fellow Democrat, said last week that Donovan should “give it a lot of thought, quickly, and come forward and speak to the people of Connecticut.”
And Justin Bernier, a Republican rival in the 5th District race, said last week that Donovan should speak for himself.
Donovan said he did not speak immediately about the scandal because he first needed to take action, including firing Braddock, replacing his campaign manager and hiring an investigator.
“I had to put that in place in order that I could then present to the public what I just did today,” he said.
Donovan, who said he prides himself on working for campaign finance reform legislation, said he is now defending himself against “what is just unthinkable.”
He took responsibility for hiring Braddock and others, and said he regrets doing so.
Donovan said he will recuse himself from negotiations about legislation, but vowed to will not resign as speaker as demanded by Senate Republican Leader John McKinney.
His voice breaking, Donovan said he understands he may lose some support in his race for Congress, but that he has been overwhelmed by supporters who have told him “to fight on, and I will.”
“All I can do is emphatically reassure the voters that I’ve done nothing wrong,” Donovan said.
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