FBI questions two more former aides to Harris

Published November 2, 2006

WASHINGTON - Federal investigators have interviewed at least two more former chiefs of staff to U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris as part of a federal inquiry into her relationship with a convicted defense contractor.

Dan Berger and Ben McKay, who both worked for Harris in her first term and are now lobbyists in Washington, confirmed the interviews this week and said it was their understanding all congressional staff would likely be questioned. The two spoke separately to three investigators from the FBI and the Defense Department in Washington several weeks ago.

The Justice and Defense departments are examining Harris' dealings with Mitchell Wade, who made illegal campaign contributions to Harris and paid for at least two dinners with her at a tony Georgetown restaurant that totaled about $6,000. Later Wade asked Harris to help secure $10-million in federal money for a company project in Sarasota.

Federal authorities have subpoenaed records from Harris' U.S. Senate campaign office and have interviewed several former staffers, including senior campaign consultant Ed Rollins, campaign manager Jim Dornan and Mona Tate Yost, a congressional aide who later went to work for Wade.

Harris, a two-term Republican from Longboat Key who has served in Congress since 2002, is running an uphill battle to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in Tuesday's election.

Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra declined to comment this week.

Fred Asbell, who was chief of staff for Harris for about 10 months before leaving in June, was interviewed. Dan Horowitz, who held that position for four months at the end of 2004, said he has not been contacted and does not expect to be.

Horowitz works for the House Small Business Committee.

Calls to Christopher Battle, who worked for Harris for about six months until this spring, were not returned.

Harris' staff did not return messages this week.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or 202 463-0576.