Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

October 16, 2012

McCotter: 'I was ruined' by ballot mess

Congressman failed to get on the 2012 ballot

DETROIT (AP) — A former Detroit-area congressman who failed to make the 2012 ballot said he "was ruined" by his staff's failure to turn in enough signatures for re-election, but he doubted anyone intentionally sabotaged the campaign.

Thaddeus McCotter told investigators it wouldn't make sense for aides to turn on him when their jobs were tied to his re-election to a sixth term.

If a lawmaker "doesn't get on the ballot, we're all done in December," McCotter said, referring to the end of a congressional term.

The Associated Press obtained a transcript of McCotter's 90-minute June interview with the attorney general's office. It reveals more details beyond his testimony last week in a criminal case against Paul Seewald and Don Yowchuang, two trusted aides who ran his district office and now face felony charges in the scandal. McCotter hasn't been charged but he resigned in July.

He didn't qualify for the Republican primary election after failing to submit 1,000 valid signatures from voters in May. The secretary of state's office found photocopied petitions as well as petitions signed by circulators who didn't actually gather names.

"When I went to bed, everything was fine. I woke up, I was ruined," McCotter told investigators, recalling how he got the news while on a congressional trip in Hawaii. "If you're not on the ballot, they say you're ruined."

He said he never looked at the petitions and typically delegated the job to Yowchuang after winning his first race in 2002.

"Anybody who's had to file by petition knows that this is hard but it's not brain surgery," McCotter said.

"This is the place where people vote on bills they don't read. OK?" he said, referring to Congress. "You have to delegate things down to people you trust."

McCotter met with Yowchuang and Seewald on May 27, two days after learning about the petition mess. He said they both admitted to illegally signing petitions as the actual circulators, a misdemeanor, but took no responsibility for creating copies of petitions or doctoring them.

"These are two guys that I've trusted with my life," McCotter told investigators. "And I don't believe they'd do anything purposefully, but I could see them panicking if they let something slide. And I think Mr. Yowchuang may have had that happen."

There is no dispute Yowchuang delivered the bogus petitions to the secretary of state's office. He, too, spoke to investigators, first denying he made the copies that were rejected by state officials but later admitting he had "panicked" and knew it was illegal.

Yowchuang, 33, is charged with forgery and conspiracy, while Seewald, 47, is charged with conspiracy. Defense attorneys concede misdemeanors occurred, but they've argued felony charges are too severe. Another former aide, Mary Turnbull, is charged with conspiracy in a separate case.

"There are consequences when you break the law," Attorney General Bill Schuette told the AP last week.

McCotter told Schuette's investigators he would "do anything" to help them with the case.

"The person who gets tagged is me. That's all right. I signed up for it," he said of being a politician. "I get tagged every day. Not like this, not with fraud next to my name."

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