34 Congressmen Arrested In D.C. Cockfighting Crackdown

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WASHINGTON, DC—Washington police seized 22 members of the House of Representatives, 12 members of the Senate, and more than 100 fighting cocks Monday night, in the latest crackdown on blood sports at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Congressmen Don Nickles (R-OK), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dick Gephardt (D-MO), and John Lewis (D-GA) minutes before their arrest.

"At 1 o'clock this morning, uniformed officers, acting on tips from undercover operatives, staged simultaneous raids on four known beltway pits, arresting a large bipartisan coalition of legislative cockfighting enthusiasts," D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey told reporters Tuesday. "Of course, we were aware of the longstanding cockfighting problem, but we were shocked to catch so many highly placed lawmakers in the act of betting on, training, and selling fighting birds—or, in the case of [Rep.] Tammy Baldwin [D-WI], operating back-alley clubs."

A full report of evidence gathered in the raids will be issued later this week, but police have released certain facts, including details about a breeding network for elite fighting cocks—prized for their extreme aggressiveness and high pain threshold—run by members of the House Judiciary Committee. Undercover officers said they witnessed committee members selling birds to other congressmen for hundreds of dollars apiece.

Evidence also included photos of congressional motor-pool limousines that had been converted into "crating trucks" to transport cocks from venue to venue. Perhaps most stunning of all were the firsthand sightings of cocks, their crests and wattles surgically removed, being trained to fight with blades tied to their natural spurs in a 400-bird "hardening pen" in the basement of the Old Executive Office Building, just blocks away from the White House.

Detective William Gargano of the D.C. vice squad was present for the previous evening's raid on El Pollo Diablo, a cockfighting pit located among several blocks of abandoned warehouses in southeast D.C.

"I was there shooting undercover video when detectives and animal-control operatives, working in a combined task force, busted down all the doors to the place at once," Gargano said. "It had already been shaping up to be one hell of a night. [Sen. Dick] Lugar [R-IN] was a few hundred dollars ahead in the pit. His famous Stag Hammer just couldn't lose. Well, that didn't sit well with [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY], who accused him of giving his bird ginger and amphetamine suppositories to make it fight harder."

Continued Gargano: "Then [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA] tried to suck her rooster's punctured lung clear so it could last a whole match, but she swallowed too much blood and puked everywhere. [Supreme Court Justice David] Souter had just broken up a fight between [Rep.] Mark Kennedy [R-MN] and [Rep. Jim] Oberstar [D-MN], after they knocked the damn carcass barrel all over the floor. When the raid happened, I was relieved. It was getting pretty dicey in there."

The raids themselves were carried out with minimal resistance. Only Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) needed to be restrained and charged with resisting arrest.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) inspects fighting birds during a cock-buying trip to Tibet.

Ramsey said that, though formal charges have yet to be filed, the congressmen taken into custody will most likely be charged with illegal gambling, animal cruelty, and collusion. Nearly all of the arrested cockfighting enthusiasts are out of jail after posting bail. However, not one of the arrested parties, even those who were not elected officials, has agreed to speak openly to reporters.

One legislator who asked not to be identified said the charges were "petty," and that the indicted members of Congress were victims of a "witch-hunt."

"Although violent, cockfighting is a traditional part of the American lawmaker's way of life," the legislator said. "It's a sport, with a code of conduct the uninitiated simply wouldn't understand. I'm sure many of the good people of Oklahoma, hypothetically speaking, would agree that there's a place for different people's tastes in this great country. As far as the cruelty charges go, that's ludicrous. I love my fighting cocks—my wife likes to say I treat my champion red-eyes better than I treat her—and I'm sure my fellow Congressmen would say much the same."

As troubling as the mere existence of a legislative cockfighting ring may be, lawmakers who were not implicated in the scandal say they are more disturbed by evidence that legislation has been derailed, altered, or passed based on successes and failures in the cockfighting pit.

"One week, the Civic Funding for Secondary Education Act is dead in the water, with no compromise on the horizon," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. "The very next week, 12 Democrats turn over on their votes. I heard strange rumors that some hefty debt to the Senate Republicans was just erased—something involving '10-to-1 odds on a one-eyed Rhode Island Red.' It didn't make sense until this morning, when I flipped on the news and saw all these same senators getting cuffed at the rooster pit in a basement off Constitution."

"Now that I think about it, this may explain why the Chicken Feed Price Stabilization Act passed through the House so quickly last month," McCain added.