THE BLOG

Former Utah Rep: I Was Married to a Con Man

01/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Funny how what goes around comes around in the world of politics and journalism.

Thirteen years ago, on Dec. 5, 1995, I sat transfixed while Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz held a marathon emotional news conference in her Salt Lake City district office, as she discussed the soap opera scandal that left her contemplating suicide and destroyed her promising political career and marriage.

The then-37-year-old freshman Republican congresswoman spent nearly five hours tearfully protesting her innocence in the Byzantine financial manipulations that fueled her 1994 election to Congress. Her husband, Joe Waldholtz, whom she married a year earlier, managed her campaign, which spent some $2 million and was the most expensive House race in the country.

Waldholtz, who turned out to be a world class con man, was later convicted of 29 counts of tax, bank and campaign fraud and sentenced to 37 months in federal prison after he embezzled more than $4 million from Greene's stockbroker father and used it to help elect her to Congress and finance their extravagant life style.

Greene was eventually cleared of criminal wrongdoing, but under pressure from Sen. Orrin Hatch and other top Utah Republicans, declined to seek reelection in 1996. But she and her father were later assessed a $100,000 fine by the Federal Election Commisson for violating federal campaign laws.

Jennifer Senior -- one of The Hill's talented young reporters and now a staff writer for New York magazine -- and I collaborated on a series of articles that uncovered the scandal. It was one of the most dramatic and poignant stories I've covered in more than four decades as a journalist, and I was debating whether I should contact Greene and bring back the painful memories when I discovered that she, herself, had done just that.

Late last month, on a Salt Lake City weekly radio program she hosts, Greene said she was "absolutely appalled, infuriated and disgusted" that President-elect Obama picked Eric Holder as his choice for attorney general. Greene's outrage stemmed from the fact that Holder was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who led the year-long investigation of Greene and her husband.

Greene, who divorced Waldholtz in 1995 and recently remarried, said, "This man should in no way, shape or form be allowed to have so much power concentrated in his hands." She added that he has it "from the highest authorities in the Justice Department and FBI" that Holder's prolonged investigation was politically motivated.

And last week, Greene, now Enid Green Mickelson, told the Salt Lake Tribune that Holder is a "lawbreaking opportunist" who "has absolutely no moral or ethical integrity and shouldn't be attorney general."

But Sen. Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, defended Holder. He told the newspaper that it was a "good appointment," adding, "I like Holder. I have a very good relationship with him."

I called Greene last week, but she didn't return my call, which didn't surprise me. Greene, who was the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Utah and the first freshman named to the Rules Committee in more than 80 years, has rebuilt her personal life and political life after returning to Utah in disgrace. She returned to her law practice, helped care for her dying father, raised the daughter that she and Waldholtz had in 1995 -- she was only the second congresswoman to give birth while in office -- and helped run a family foundation.

She also was elected vice chair of the Utah Republican Party in 2003, ran unsuccessfully in 2004 for lieutenant governor, and is currently Utah's GOP national committeewoman. In an October, 2006 interview with Lee Davidson, who was the Washington bureau chief of the Salt Lake Deseret News at the time and is now back at the paper after it closed its Washington bureau, she made it clear she misses Congress.

"The work was incredible, fascinating, exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time. I have missed the opportunity to work on issues, she said. "It was an honor to service, if only for one term."

But she told Davidson she doesn't "miss having the media so thoroughly interested in my life. I've had ups and downs like everybody does. The downs, unfortunately, were quite public because of the office I held when my marriage imploded."

Greene's outburst against Holder wasn't the first time she was treated unfairly because of political bias. In December, 1998, I interviewed her in Salt Lake City, and she said she thought that President Clinton should be impeached because he refused to do what she did, which was to tell the truth to a grand jury.

"I don't mean to equate my situation with the president's, but I've been investigated, I've appeared in front of a grand jury three times with no lawyers sitting with me, and I told the truth, even when I could have lied and spared my father, and it wouldn't have made it any worse for me," she said. "I had to run the gauntlet and face that grand jury. I don't have any sympathy for the president's claim that he's been treated unfairly. He's had preferential treatment."

Greene graciously received me in her home, surrounded by Christmas decorations. She even posed for a photograph with her three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. When I asked why she agreed to talk to the publication that first disclosed that Holder's office was looking into her personal and campaign finances, she said, "You're an opportunity to let some of my friends [in Washington] know that things are well with me."

However, she also told me that her 1995 ordeal was so traumatic that she "actually contemplated suicide. "It would have been very easy to lie and clear my father. I could have written it all out and it would have been admissible because there's an exception for a dying declaration."

But she decided against taking her life because of her daughter, she said. "I couldn't see leaving her to Joe or with my 78-year-old parents as a fair option."

Greene said the key to her decision to leave Washington in 1997 and return to her hometown was spending nearly two weeks on a wagon train re-enacting the arrival of the first Mormon pioneers in Utah 150 years earlier.

"My great-great-grandfather was on that train, and I became friends with a 70-year-old man from Iowa who had driven the entire year. We hit it off. He reminded me of my dad. He taught me to drive a wagon and we'd sit and talk. Nobody cared that I had been in Congress. It was a very healing experience."