Bill O'Reilly did a good number on "local" Congressman Robert Wexler tonight.
And I think Wexler is in a bit of trouble.
You see, the longtime Democratic rep says he lives in Delray Beach and he's required to maintain a residence in his district. But he really lives in Potomac MD. The house in Delray that he calls his "offical residence" is owned by Lawrence and Roslyn Cohen, the parents of Wexler's wife, Laurie. And it's in a restricted over-55 community, which makes it impossible for Wexler and and his three children to reside there.
"U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Delray Beach)"? I think not.
Wexler's Republican opponent, Edward Lynch, dug this stuff up and fed it to Fox News. O'Reilly ate it up.
A Fox News producer named Griff Jenkins caught up with Wexler in the front yard of his home in Potomac. When Jenkins walked up on his driveway, Wexler -- looking 100 percent the goofy suburban dad in a green hat, green t-shirt, and shorts -- didn't even wait for a question.
"No, I'm not doing this," Wexler said. "If you want to call my office, that's fine, I gotta drive my daughter to work."
Jenkins, like any good reporter, kept charging, asking Wexler by the congressman's silver Volvo SUV if his residency was in Delray.
"That's correct, that's my residence," he said.
Jenkins noted that it belonged to Wexler's in-laws.
"Is that true? You live with your mother-in-law?" Jenkins asked with a straight face.
That's when the fire-breathing liberal got what football man Bill Curry likes to call the "brook trout stare." His eyes went blank and you could practically hear his brain leaking out of his head.
"Uh, the, mm ..."
The stammering only lasted a second or two, but it seemed like an hour in at the DMV.
"My in-laws own that house, that's correct," he finally said.
"So you live with your mother-in-law?"
"My in-laws own that house, yes, that's my official residence."
To the videotape:
You might think this seems a small matter and you might not like the vigor with which O'Reilly goes after Wexler (fresh liberal meat, you know). But it's about more than partisan politics or even the fact that Wexler hasn't lived in his district for ten years and lists a sham residence in official papers. Put bluntly, this is a sleazy and unethical move by Wexler and O'Reilly and the Wall Street Journal's John Fund touch on the reasons why. For one, he gets a housing deduction from Congress to help him maintain two residences. Unless, he's paying Mrs. Cohen rent when he sleeps on the pull-out, he's just pocketing that little federal benefit.
Another thing is that he might be using the sham Delray house for tax purposes -- as in, to not pay them. Florida doesn't have a state income tax, Maryland does. That means his little deceit might be bringing him more than a little coin. It's not proven, but his cars are, weirdly, registered in Florida and it deserves to be looked into.
Basically, this could be tantamount to fraud and it could actually have some legs, though I seriously doubt we'll see any criminal charges and I'm quite certain his loyal voters will quickly forgive him. He's good ol' Bobby Wexler, after all.
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But good on Lynch for digging it up. So how did he do it? Well, Wexler can blame his own big mouth. Or, more specifically, his typing fingers. From Lynch's press release:
This revelation became known after reading Congressman Wexler’s book, “Fire Breathing Liberal.” On P. 52 he states, “While many members don’t bring their families with them to Washington, choosing instead to fly home each weekend, Laurie and I decided it would work best for our family if our three young children attended school in the Washington area.” It was that statement the caused this candidate to look further into Rep. Wexler’s past.
That's how he found a damn good story, though you wouldn't really have known it if you read the story about it in the Palm Beach Post this morning. Rather than treat it like a serious local political story, the Post basically wrote a preview of O'Reilly's show and brought up none of the more pertinent problems regarding Wexler's action. Headlined "Wexler residency dispute enters Fox's 'No Spin Zone'," it basically nullified itself as news and handed Fox the real scoop. It also reminded me of how chummy the Post has historically been with its long-time congressmen. Remember Mark Foley? The newspaper treated him like a near-deity until he finally went down in flames over the page scandal.
This isn't anywhere near a Foley-caliber story (even if O'Reilly treats it as one to push his famously non-existent political agenda). But it definitely deserves serious local coverage.