Wednesday night Bob Ney, the only Congressman convicted in the 2006 Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, spoke two blocks from the Capitol at the old politicos hangout, the Monocle. A C-SPAN duo and crowd of twenty to thirty gathered around the 5’8’’ 58 year-old to hear about his new book, Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill, which has recently attracted press from almost every major political media outlet for its portrait of Speaker of the House John Boehner.
In the handout given to those present, next to a bar with free drinks and across from the table with some juicy shrimp and delicious chicken quesadillas, was a list of quotes from the book, the first three on Boehner. There are around 5000 first-edition copies, according to Ney’s publisher, Changing Lives Press, and they must know why the book will sell. Sideswiped calls Boehner’s life in Congress:
A maintenance job…he was considered a man that was all about winning and money. He was a chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker who was more interested in the high life- golf, woman, cigarettes, fun, and alcohol.
Ney spices up his depiction of Boehner with a few salacious stories of alleged misbehavior. Claims Ney: one night at the Capital Grille Boehner got drunk and took a female staffer home; Boehner regularly gave hand outs- free Barclay cigarettes from his lobbyist and campaign checks on the House floor; Boehner called one of his staffers a “fag;” Boehner broke out into “all-out wailing” after he was ousted from chairman of the House Republicans Conference in 1998. In 2006, Ney dropped out of his reelection race after serving for 11 years, and he now says Boehner convinced him to go by promising him a well-paying private job and money to pay the lawyers defending him against the Justice Department’s Abramoff investigation. Neither the job or the money ever materialized, Ney says.
On Tuesday, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told the Washington Post, “This is a convicted felon with a history of failing to tell the truth making a lot of baseless accusations to try and sell books.” Ney responded to TIME, “If he wants to deny it, I can prove it.” “I’d be glad to sit down with him. I’d be glad to go on TV with him,” Ney says. Boehner, Ney must surely know, would only be hurt by appearing with the former Ohio Congressman in person.
Only about a quarter of the book involves Boehner, and Ney, a recovering alcoholic likened by GQ to Peter Russo of House of Cards, says the book is focused on self-help, not only for others but also for himself. He takes full responsibility for eating and drinking free at Abramoff’s expense and for flying over to Scotland with him on a private jet for a golf outing. After eleven months in jail (he was released in 2008), and over six years without having a drink, Ney says the book is “therapeutic” and is a “way to atone for my sins.”
There are a few interesting topics Ney mentions: prison reform, an Iranian student exchange (he speaks Farsi and lived in Iran in his early twenties), and how corporate fundraisers through Citizens United and loopholes “you could drive a Mack truck through” have filled “the swamp” back up with the unethical actions Nancy Pelosi so famously tried to drain.
But Sideswiped also contains an odd dichotomy between self-help and Boehner-hate. It contains earnest messages like “be mindful of what you ingest into your body, and what you feed your soul.” When mentioning that he is living with a roommate, but tempted to buy a house, he says he has “come to the realization that ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ are different things.” The book ends with “keep in mind that it’s not the good and bad moments that count, but the moments that take your breath away. May you have many!”
Ney tells TIME that there would be a “gaping hole in the truth” in his story if he didn’t mention Boehner. But at least some readers of Sideswiped in Washington will only want to see the hand that slaps Boehner, not the one that reaches out to help others.