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Lawyer: Justice Dept. probe of Bishop closes with no charges; ethics probe still open

Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y. walks to a national

Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y. walks to a national security briefing on the situation in Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington in a 2013 photo. Photo Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department has closed its investigation, without filing charges, into whether Rep. Tim Bishop broke the law when he sought a campaign donation from a constituent he helped get a fireworks permit for his son's bar mitzvah, Bishop's attorney said.

But a two-year-old complaint filed by a political opponent against Bishop remains under review by the House Ethics Committee after the Office of Congressional Ethics found "substantial reason" to believe Bishop violated the law and ethics rules. And under House rules, the committee does not generally act 60 days before an election.

The end of the federal criminal probe comes as Bishop, a Southampton Democrat, faces ads attacking him as "corrupt" in his race for a seventh term against Republican Lee Zeldin, a state senator from Shirley.

"The Department of Justice and the FBI conducted a very thorough investigation, and we were very pleased when they contacted me last week and told me it's closed," said Michael Gilbert, who represents Bishop in the matter.

In a statement Wednesday, Bishop said: "I am very pleased that the Department of Justice has closed their investigation and cleared me of wrongdoing. Since the beginning, I have cooperated fully and I am glad to see this matter put to rest."

The Justice Department, consistent with its policy, declined to say whether it had ended its investigation. That practice is "not unusual, especially with a public official," said Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer who specializes in public ethics and corruption cases.

But Bishop's opponents still could find fodder to raise questions from the detailed 177-page Office of Congressional Ethics report, which was issued one year ago Thursday.

"I don't think this will prevent or prohibit Republicans from bringing this up in the campaign. There are still enough pieces of the story to fit into future Republican attacks," said political analyst Nathan Gonzalez with the Rothenberg Report.

The National Republican Congressional Campaign's independent expenditure arm began airing ads Tuesday charging Bishop is "corrupt, and proud of it." The $231,805 ad buy is the first installment of the $1.1 million that the NRCC said it will spend in the race.

The Republican-supporting American Action Network, a nonprofit political fund, also announced Tuesday it plans to target what it called the "scandal-plagued" Bishop with a $1.2 million cable TV and digital ad buy during October.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans to spend $1.4 million on Bishop's behalf. It launched an ad Tuesday charging Zeldin backs "gambling" with people's retirement funds by favoring privatizing Social Security.

A complaint filed in August 2012 by Smithtown Councilman Robert Creighton, a Republican, with the Office of Congressional Ethics -- created by the House to investigate misconduct allegations against its members -- accused Bishop of violating law and ethics rules. The complaint alleged Bishop sought a quid pro quo of a campaign donation for providing constituent services.

It is based on the request for campaign donations by a Bishop fundraiser from hedge fund manager Eric Semler, who asked Bishop for help in getting local and federal permits for a fireworks display for his son's May 26, 2012, bar mitzvah.

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