News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Monday, January 02, 2006 Lobbyist Jack Abramoff may be about to cut a deal, and that's bad news for a lot of folks in the capital (1/9/06)

By Silla Brush

It hasn't been a really happy holiday season for Jack Abramoff. With two of his closest business partners turning against him, and with mounting legal bills forcing him to sell off assets, the onetime Washington uberlobbyist is now reportedly close to cutting his own deal with federal investigators, a development that would send shock waves through Washington. Abramoff's testimony could implicate lawmakers in a vast influence-peddling case, and those once friendly with the man known as "Casino Jack" are now ducking for cover.

For months, a federal task force has been investigating at least a dozen public officials, including lawmakers and their aides, who may have received campaign contributions and other perks to help Abramoff's clients. Now the circle appears to be closing. In late November, Abramoff's right-hand man, Michael Scanlon, a former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges. Scanlon admitted that he and Abramoff defrauded several Indian tribes of $82 million and gave gifts to lawmakers to benefit their clients. Three weeks later, Adam Kidan, Abramoff's business partner in the purchase of a Florida-based casino boat firm, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy and agreed to testify against Abramoff. Prosecutors say the two men forged documents and lied about their finances during the purchase; the man they bought the company from was later murdered, though no one has alleged that Abramoff or Kidan was involved in the crime. Abramoff, who is scheduled to stand trial next week as the only remaining defendant in the case, is reportedly close to an agreement with prosecutors that might include cooperation with investigators looking into his lobbying tactics. A spokesman for Abramoff declined to comment.

Entanglements. The scandal has already ensnared Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican. In his plea, Scanlon said Ney was the recipient of $14,000 in campaign contributions and lavish perks, including trips to the Super Bowl and meals at Abramoff's Washington restaurant, in return for favors. Ney placed a statement in the Congressional Record praising Kidan and Abramoff's purchase of the casino boat firm; the congressman has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was duped by the lobbyists. Rep. John Doolittle, a California Republican who received campaign contributions from Abramoff, is also under scrutiny. His wife's event-planning company was hired by Abramoff and has been subpoenaed by investigators. Doolittle has also denied wrongdoing.

Other lawmakers are scrambling to return campaign contributions. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 210 federal lawmakers have received donations to their campaigns or political action committees from either Abramoff or his clients, since 1999; most big recipients were Republicans. Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, who's up for re-election this year, has returned $150,000, saying the donations "served to undermine the public's confidence in its government." According to a recent poll, 58 percent of Montana voters are concerned about the lawmaker's ties to Abramoff. Burns's lead over the closest Democratic challenger has slipped from 15 percentage points in May to 6 points last month.

Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, is returning roughly $19,000. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating Abramoff, is returning $67,000. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican, returned $18,000 to Indian tribes and donated to charity the $2,000 he received directly from Abramoff. "Let's just clear the air. Let's not have any whiff untoward about the contribution," says Erik Iverson, Rehberg's chief of staff. For some lawmakers, though, it may be a bit too late to remove the taint of Casino Jack.

The Raw Story | Firm knew Abramoff was paid by ex-DeLay aide before scandal broke, associates say

01/02/2006 @ 12:35 pm
Filed by John Byrne

Officials at the lawfirm that employed indicted conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff may have misled in public statements when speaking about what they knew about his role in a massive lobbying scandal and when they knew it, former Abramoff associates say.

Greenberg Traurig’s Connecticut Avenue offices in Washington provided the stables for a coterie of aggressive lobbyists who wooed members of Congress with lavish donations, skybox suites and Scottish golfing jaunts. The firm said they first learned of Abramoff’s misadventures when they appeared in the pages of The Washington Post.

Those familiar with the sequence of events say this is false. They maintain the company’s top executives learned of Abramoff’s financial relationship with Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-TX) former aide Michael Scanlon when they represented Abramoff in a bankruptcy trial.

Greenberg Traurig attorneys took up Abramoff’s defense when he was sued by lenders after a fleet of riverboat casinos he purchased went bankrupt. As part of the SunCruz casino bankruptcy suit, lawyers at the firm obtained copies of Abramoff’s tax returns, former associates tell RAW STORY. They say the returns showed he had received tens of millions of dollars from Scanlon—money investigators later said had been bilked from Indian tribes.

The firm took no public action. On Feb. 22, 2005, the Washington Post reported that Abramoff and Scanlon had received at least $45 million from Indian tribes.

Five days later, a Greenberg Traurig statement asserted Abramoff had resigned after he "disclosed to the firm for the first time personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable to the firm.”

Jill Perry, a spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig, did not return a phone call or email seeking comment. Andrew Blum, Abramoff’s spokesman, and Stephen Braga, Scanlon’s attorney, did not return requests for comment Monday.

Abramoff was indicted for wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with his purchase of the riverboat casinos in August 2005. He is expected to reach a plea agreement this week to testify against members of Congress and their staff relating to legislative favors he got in exchange for campaign donations and other gifts. Scanlon pled guilty in November and is cooperating with prosecutors.

One former associate said the firm knew long in advance that Abramoff had received large sums of money from Scanlon.

The individual doesn’t believe the firm knew the payments might be considered evidence of wrongdoing, and added that many individuals working at Greenberg held outside business interests. Moreover, it is not known whether Greenberg executives knew that the money was related to Abramoff's tribal lobbying work.

“It was common knowledge that shareholders in the firm had outside business interests,” the former Abramoff associate said.

A second former associate questioned whether the firm would have taken action against Abramoff had the story not made it into the Post. The Post reported this weekend that Scanlon met with Greenberg lawyers two months before Abramoff resigned.

Scanlon paid as consultant, report says

Those critical of the firm’s handling of the scandal also revealed that Scanlon was paid as a Greenberg consultant in 2001. They allege that firm had a tendency to defer to Abramoff, and that the firm sometimes relaxed screening of new employees in his favor.

An internal report, read to RAW STORY, is said to state the firm paid Scanlon for 721.8 hours in the first half of 2001 billed at a rate of $250 an hour. The report also stated that Scanlon billed 98 percent of those hours, and collected 92 percent of the hours billed. This would mean the firm collected roughly $166,000—though it leaves unclear how much Scanlon was actually paid.

Former associates question whether Greenberg officials are being candid when they say executives were “shocked” to discover Abramoff’s alleged illicit deeds. One former colleague said the firm has a history of “throwing the guy to the wolves and saying we’re not responsible.”

Abramoff hired in strategy to increase receipts

Before he was a pariah, Abramoff was Greenberg Traurig’s poster boy.

Upon his enlistment in 2001, Greenberg’s government affairs chairman said he planned to double the firm’s lobbying receipts, seeking to bring lobbying revenues to more than $9 million. A lawyer familiar with the firm told the trade magazine Influence at the time that Greenberg’s culture sought out aggressive talent.

"It’s a very entrepreneurial place," one lawyer familiar with the firm told Influence. "They do not have their noses in the air, so to speak. They don’t say ‘We don’t like this client’ or ‘We’re afraid of the image it may create.’"

With Abramoff, Greenberg Traurig did even better than they had hoped. The firm’s lobbying receipts leapt fourfold, from $3 million in 2000, to $16 million in 2001. At the peak in 2003, the firm grossed $26 million on lobbying alone.

The scandal hounding Abramoff isn’t the first the firm has faced. In 1998, the Federal Election Commission levied a $77,000 fine against Greenberg for knowingly soliciting illegal contributions from a foreign national. The fine given the German developer in the case, $323,000, was the largest of its kind ever assessed by the FEC.

Abramoff is currently under investigation by the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. In an earlier statement, Greenberg’s director of marketing and public affairs Jill Perry said his style was “antithetical” to the firm’s practices.

"Greenberg Traurig accepted Jack Abramoff's resignation from the firm, effective March 2, 2004, after Mr. Abramoff disclosed to the firm personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable to the firm and antithetical to the way we do business,” Perry asserted. “In addition, conduct and comments by Mr. Abramoff which have come to light since he left Greenberg Traurig are contrary to our firm's values and culture.”

“We are conducting a comprehensive internal investigation of these matters and are cooperating with all government investigations," she added. Pressed for more, Perry said the firm was constrained from commenting because of ongoing investigations.

Will K Street be punished for Jack Abramoff ?

Monday, January 2, 2006; Page D10

Congress does nothing better than react. So if the investigations of lobbyist Jack Abramoff produce indictments of members of Congress, their spouses, their staffers or of other lobbyists, don't be surprised if lawmakers pass new rules to rein in the influence industry. They would need to protect themselves from a voter backlash against excessive coziness with paid advocates.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) are among a growing number of politicians suggesting ways to put distance between government officials and lobbyists. Among other things, they would restrict sponsored travel by members of Congress, impose a tighter gift ban, and slow the revolving door between government and private industry. But don't expect the changes to change lobbying forever; money in politics always finds a way.

Dozens send back lobbyist's donations - The Boston Globe

Lawmakers fear link to Abramoff
By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff | January 2, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress who once counted on super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to help finance their campaigns have begun returning the cash they got from him and his clients, signaling a growing worry that ethics -- and the scandal surrounding Abramoff -- will become issues that could affect close House and Senate races in next year's midterm elections.

Abramoff, a powerful Washington figure who owned a tony restaurant frequented by members of Congress, is under federal investigation for allegedly swindling American Indian tribes out of millions of dollars in lobbying fees and contributions to Abramoff's associates.

With a court date looming Jan. 9 -- and the possibility that Abramoff will cut a deal with prosecutors before that date -- at least two dozen lawmakers have refunded money they fear could look tainted by Election Day in November.

''They're obviously worried," said Michael Malbin, director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. ''If people get disgusted by the relationship between the people in power and the lobbyists, [Abramoff] is going to become their poster boy."

If a lawmaker is not personally tied to any possible illegal activity involving Abramoff, then giving the money back could burnish his or her image with voters, Malbin said.

But if, as many political analysts suspect, some senators or House members are linked to Abramoff and potentially illegal activity, Malbin said, then ''returning the check won't begin to take care of the problem."

Montana Senators Max Baucus, a Democrat, and Conrad Burns, a Republican, were the latest to return Abramoff-connected cash.

Baucus returned $18,892, including $1,892 he had failed to report for use of Abramoff's skybox at a Washington, D.C., sports arena.

Burns, who has been targeted by Democrats in November's election, gave back $150,000 in contributions before Christmas, reversing an earlier position that he would not return the money.

''The contributions given to my political committees by Jack Abramoff and his clients, while legal and fully disclosed, have served to undermine the public's confidence in its government," Burns said in a statement explaining his reversal.

A Burns aide said the senator has not been implicated in any of the Abramoff investigations, and has not hired a lawyer to handle the case.

Abramoff's dealings are the subject of a Senate probe and a criminal investigation.

Among the deals being scrutinized are contributions from the tribes who hired Abramoff to politicians and political groups associated with him, and overseas trips paid for by Abramoff and involving Tom DeLay, former House majority leader and Republican of Texas, among other political figures.

Capitol Hill sources have also suggested that Abramoff gave free meals and drinks at his restaurant to lawmakers, in violation of a congressional rule barring gifts worth more than $50.

Some political strategists and congressmen believe it's not necessary to return campaign donations simply because the contributor is under investigation.

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the committee has not recommend to GOP candidates that they return money from Abramoff or his clients.

But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are uneasy, worried that any connection to Abramoff could become a campaign liability that far outweighs the campaign help he may have given them.

Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who, like Burns, sits on a congressional committee that oversees Indian tribes' issues, returned $67,000 in Abramoff-related donations a few days before Burns and Baucus gave back their campaign cash.

''Members of Congress try to hold onto as much money as possible, until it becomes politically distasteful to hold onto it," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the Public Campaign Action Fund.

He predicted that lawmakers who accepted contributions from Abramoff may face serious questions from their constituents on the campaign trail.

''What it does is shine a very bright light on our campaign finance system," he said.

Democrats intend to make ethics an issue against Republicans in next year's elections, using the indictments of DeLay on money-laundering charges unrelated to the Abramoff probe, and former vice presidential aide I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby for allegedly lying to a grand jury, to paint the GOP as a party immersed in scandal.

New Hampshire Democrats have hounded the state's GOP representatives, Charles Bass and Jeb Bradley, to give back contributions they received from a DeLay political action committee.

Bradley has returned such campaign contributions; Bass hasn't, but has called for DeLay to be replaced as the House leader.

Democratic strategists compare the current series of Republican ethics headaches to the House banking scandal in the early 1990s, when dozens of lawmakers were found to have repeatedly written bad personal checks on their House bank accounts, some racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdrafts -- without penalties.

Democrats believe the ensuing voter anger contributed to their loss of dozens of seats in 2004, giving control of the chamber to Republicans.

The Abramoff and DeLay cases, Democrats believe, could help them pick up some seats next year and perhaps even regain majority control of the House.

''My sense of this is that voters are cynical and angry to start, and that more scandal just makes matters worse," said Peter Fenn, a veteran Democratic consultant and former congressional staffer.

He noted that former House speaker Jim Wright, Democrat of Texas, was forced to resign from Congress in 1989 because lobbyists bought large quantities of his books, then handed them out at fund-raisers.

The Abramoff case ''is clearly a much bigger scandal than the House bank or a book," Fenn said.

But while DeLay limited his handouts to fellow Republicans, Abramoff spread his money around to lawmakers and candidates in both parties.

According to an analysis prepared by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Abramoff and his clients doled out more than $4.4 million to candidates since 2000, with $1.5 million of the money going to Democrats.

While Democrats seek to taint Burns with the Abramoff scandal, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has gone on the offense, pointing out that Abramoff gave cash not only to Baucus, but to Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate minority leader and the Democrats' leader.


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