John Murtha, an influential congressman and Iraq war critic who drew scrutiny for his wheeler-dealer ways, died Monday after suffering complications from gallbladder surgery. He was 77.
Spokesman Matthew Mazonkey said he died in an Arlington, Va., hospital with his family at his bedside.
Although Murtha initially supported President George W. Bush's use of the military in Iraq in 2002, the Pennsylvania Democrat soon grew frustrated with the war.
By November 2005, Murtha called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn. "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion," he said.
In 1974, Murtha became the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress. He was considered a hawkish Democrat, so his coming out against the Iraq war got special notice.
Murtha, chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees Defense Department spending, was targeted by critics of pork-barrel and pay-to-play politics. He attracted the attention of ethics watchdogs because of his entanglement in the Abscam scandal three decades ago. He was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator, but he was never charged and maintained he had done nothing wrong.
More recently, he was investigated for expenditures known as earmarks. But the Office of Congressional Ethics said it had no reason to continue its probe.
Murtha defended the practice of earmarking, saying the money helped his constituents.
Critics called him the "King of Pork" for the amount of federal money he shepherded to his southwestern Pennsylvania district, which had been wracked by widespread losses in the coal and steel industries.
He was unapologetic about his deal-making, once saying, "deal-making is what Congress is all about."