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

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

ABC News: Political Effects of Abramoff Deal Emerge

Lobbyist's Former Associates Scramble to Distance Themselves
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2006 — - The legal fallout from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's decision to cooperate with a federal corruption probe -- and provide evidence against an unknown number of high-level Washington officials -- remains to be seen. But the political effects, in the nation's capital and in many lawmakers' home states, have already begun to emerge.

Abramoff today pleaded guilty to two fraud charges stemming from his purchase of a Florida gambling boat fleet, a day after pleading guilty to three felony counts of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion.

Not surprisingly, Abramoff's former associates have scrambled to distance themselves from him -- and his money. Politicians from both sides of the aisle are returning campaign contributions from the disgraced lobbyist. While those contributions may have been perfectly legal, it's the political taint that may hold the bigger danger, analysts said.

"Members may escape a conviction for bribery but not escape the political fallout," said Larry Noble, director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

A "Republican" Problem
The majority of Abramoff's donations and perks went to Republicans, and Democrats are working to frame the scandal as a "Republican" problem. They hope to tie it to other GOP scandals, including former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's admission of accepting bribes, and the indictment of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in the ongoing CIA leak probe.

But as the parties head into this year's midterm elections -- and look ahead to 2008 -- the issue of corruption may provide the biggest lift to those who can campaign as "outsiders" arguing for reform. Although an anti-incumbent mood would likely indirectly benefit Democrats as the minority party, there are Republicans who might try to seize that mantle as well.

Former House Leader Newt Gingrich said he thought Abramoff and others involved should go to jail, but that the scandal was also symptomatic of "a much larger and deeper problem" in Washington.

"I'll tell you what the city's first instinct is going to be," he said at the Rotary Club in Washington today. "It's going to be to turn Abramoff into lobbyist-bashing -- have the same system on the Hill, that is unhealthy, protect itself by passing a narrowly drawn anti-lobbyist provision while the same people go to the same PAC fundraisers to raise the same money with the same cronies in the same manner."

Gingrich was one of the primary architects of the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, when Republicans swept into office in part by promising to rid Capitol Hill of Democratic corruption. Bush first campaigned for the White House as an outsider, too, promising to restore honor and integrity to the office, though he himself was ultimately ousted in part over an ethics scandal.

Returning Donations
Today the Republican National Committee said it would donate to the Red Cross $6,000 that was given directly to Bush's re-election campaign by Abramoff; his wife, Pam; and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, although the Democratic National Committee is calling on the RNC to return all the money Abramoff raised as a Bush Pioneer, some $100,000.

Other top Republicans followed suit. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's office said he would redirect $15,000 worth of past donations made by Abramoff and his wife to charities in his Texas district.

"The funds were donated in full compliance with federal law and disclosed properly and publicly, but yesterday's admission of guilt and improper actions warranted our action to make something positive come of all this by donating the money to local charities rather than retaining it," said Shannon Flaherty, a spokeswoman.

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., also planned to donate to charity $8,500 he received from Abramoff over the years. And on Tuesday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office said the Illinois Republican would return Abramoff's contributions as well.

Lawmakers are also hastening to tighten ethics rules -- and possibly pass new legislation -- regarding lobbying.

"I will be working with colleagues this session to examine and act on any necessary changes to improve transparency and accountability for our body when it comes to lobbying," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said today in a statement.

Local Races
Still, the scandal's political effects can already be seen in some lawmakers' home districts and states. Montana's Democratic Party has already run ads against Republican Senator Conrad Burns on the issue. Burns has returned some $150,000 from Abramoff, and recent polls have shown that race narrowing.

Other races could be affected in more indirect ways.

"Collateral damage could be somebody like Mike DeWine," said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst at the Cook Political Report. "He is from Ohio and he is a Republican -- and ethics is a big deal there."

Ohio's governor pleaded guilty this summer to violating state ethics laws, and the only lawmaker singled out in the Abramoff court documents so far for accepting gifts in exchange for certain actions -- albeit not by name -- was Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. On Tuesday, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Ohio Republican leaders would ask Ney to resign if he is indicted. Ney has said he is innocent of any violations.

On the other hand, a lawmaker like Lincoln Chaffee, R-R.I., whose seat Democrats have targeted, is unlikely to be affected by the scandal because he's already "the ultimate outsider," said Duffy. And Democrats could still find some of their own implicated as the Abramoff investigation continues.

Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures

Winners and Losers - Newsweek Politics -

A guide to those whose careers will crash—and those who might benefit—because of Jack Abramoff’s saga of greed.

By Howard Fineman
Updated: 4:24 p.m. ET Jan. 4, 2006

Jan. 4, 2006 - Forget the black hat. Everybody in Washington is obsessed with Jack Abramoff’s gangsterlike attire as he came out of the federal courthouse. But the thing that jumps out at me is the figure $20,194,000. If I read the fed’s plea-agreement papers correctly, that’s the amount of cold cash that the Republican lobbyist siphoned from Indian tribes and stashed in his secret accounts.

You may not believe this, but in this city, that is an unheard of amount of money for a lobbyist to haul in—and the number itself signifies a troubling change in the nature of life in the capital of our country.

The denizens of D.C. deal in trillions of dollars. But they are YOUR dollars: tax receipts and federal spending. Lawyers and lobbyists here do well. Still, they haven’t generally been in the same league as money-power types in, say, New York or Los Angeles. This was a city in which official position meant more than a plush vacation home; in which a Ph.D. or J.D. meant more than a BMW. Traditionally, the locals have been more like Vegas blackjack dealers than the greedy people sitting on the other side of the table.

Well, Abramoff jumped the table—and the result will be the biggest influence-peddling scandal to hit Washington in recent times: the Scandal of the Poisoned BlackBerrys, which sent and received e-mails that now will make a gripping saga of greed in action.

And just who are the political losers and winners? There are more of the former than the latter.

Members of Congress: Lawmakers fingered by the Feds in Abramoff probe, or who received campaign contributions through the networking of Abramoff, and who are facing re-election this November. Voters tend to like, or at least tolerate, their local congressman and assume that they aren’t part of the corrupt world of Washington—until the member’s name surfaces in a context like this one.

The Republican Party: The semi-conventional wisdom here is as follows—some Democrats are likely to be stained by ties to Jack Abramoff; polls show that the public has a plague-on-both-your-houses attitude toward wrongdoing in Washington; therefore, the GOP won’t be hurt in November. I don’t buy it. Republicans are the incumbent party in the Congress. They are led by a less-than-popular president in the traditionally weak sixth year of his presidency.

The DeLay-Hastert Crowd: Rep. Tom DeLay, given his close ties to Abramoff, can forget about getting his job as House majority leader back. At least that’s what one GOP backbencher, who insisted on anonymity for now, told me Tuesday. “We just can’t afford to have him in such a visible position anymore.” DeLay, facing state charges in Texas, could have a tough re-election campaign, if he gets that far. Semi-figurehead Speaker Denny Hastert, installed in the job by DeLay, hastily returned all of his Abramovian campaign contributions, but that only served to underscore his visibility. Look for a major shake-up in the GOP House leadership, perhaps soon.

The Bush-Rove White House: No one is alleging, and I think it is unlikely, that Boy Genius Karl Rove knew in any detail what kind of crook Abramoff really was. On the other hand, Rove was, and remains—unless he is indicted in the Plame case—the puppet master of Republican Washington. He shares operational and attitudinal roots with Abramoff and the other hustlers in the baby-boomer generation of Republican strategists. Over the years, as Rove has needed to “move” legislation—and make no mistake, he has been the guy guiding that process—he has called on the entire GOP lobbying establishment in D.C. to help. The process of building that machinery began long before Rove came to town with Bush. DeLay, Abramoff, Grover Norquist and others began assembling it after the GOP took the House in 1994, demanding that corporate types hire Republicans—and not just any Republicans, THEIR Republicans. Rove then took command of that vehicle when he moved to the White House in 2001. Rove will have a hard time claiming now that he didn’t know how the machinery worked, especially since Abramoff himself became a major contributor to Bush’s re-election campaign.

Third-party reform movement: If Sen. John McCain doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination, I could see him leading an independent effort to “clean up” the capital as a third-party candidate. Having been seared by his own touch with this type of controversy (the Keating case in the '80s, which was as important an experience to him as Vietnam), McCain could team up with a Democrat, say, Sen. Joe Lieberman. If they could assemble a cabinet in waiting—perhaps Wes Clark for Defense, Russ Feingold for Justice, Colin Powell for anything— they could win the 2008 election going away.

Public Integrity Section: The Abramoff case is proof, at least so far, that it’s possible for lifers in the bureaucracy to still have a corrective influence on politics run amok in the capital. The case has been handled from the start by professionals who do this kind of work out of a sense of loyalty and idealism. We’ll see if Attorney General Alberto Gonzales leaves them alone if they start working their way toward the White House.

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

Top Republicans Give Up Abramoff Donations - Yahoo! News

By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer

President Bush, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his successor Roy Blunt Wednesday joined the growing list of officials shedding political donations from Jack Abramoff, the once powerful lobbyist who has agreed to testify in a broad-ranging political corruption investigation.

Bush's re-election campaign is giving up $6,000 in campaign contributions connected to Abramoff, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraud, corruption and tax evasion charges in Washington. The lobbyist was due in federal court in Miami Wednesday afternoon to plead guilty to fraud charges stemming from his purchases of a Florida gambling boat fleet called SunCruz.

In a plea agreement with government prosecutors, Abramoff agreed to tell the FBI about alleged bribes to lawmakers and their aides on issues ranging from Internet gambling to wireless phone service in the House.

The full extent of the investigation is not yet known, but Justice Department officials said they intended to make use of the trove of e-mails and other material in Abramoff's possession as part of a probe that is believed to be focusing on as many as 20 members of Congress and aides.

"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive and we will continue to follow it wherever it leads," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal division.

Bush, DeLay, Blunt and Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record) joined House Speaker Dennis Hastert in announcing plans to either return campaign contributions from Abramoff or give them to charity. Several others announced in December that they were giving back Abramoff's donations to their campaigns.

Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign, earning the honorary title "pioneer" from the campaign. But the campaign is giving up only $6,000 directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes that he worked to win influence for in Washington. The money is being donated to the American Heart Association.

Abramoff, his wife and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan each donated $2,000 to the Bush campaign, said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt. The rest of the money that Abramoff brought in was from other individuals whom he encouraged to donate to Bush.

"At this point, there is nothing to indicate that contributions from those individual donors represents anything other than enthusiastic support for the (Bush-Cheney) BC-04 reelection campaign," Schmitt said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible that the two met at holiday receptions. Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the Bush White House, the spokesman said.

McClellan later said he thinks that Abramoff had been to the White House a "very few times" besides the Hanukkah receptions. He said he was checking into other visits that Abramoff made since Bush has been president.

DeLay will give campaign contributions connected to Abramoff to charities, his spokesman, Kevin Madden, said in an e-mail Wednesday. The Texas Republican received at least $57,000 in political contributions from Abramoff, his lobbying associates or his tribal clients between 2001 and 2004. DeLay is now awaiting trial in Texas on charges of laundering campaign money used in races for the state legislature.

Blunt, a Missouri Republican whose political action committee received $8,500 from Abramoff between 1999 and 2003, plans to give that much to charity, a spokeswoman said.

"While we firmly believe the contributions were legal at the time of receipt, the plea indicates that such contributions may not have been given in the spirit in which they were received," said Burson Taylor, a spokeswoman for Blunt.

Ney, who was identified as Representative 1 in Abramoff's plea deal, donated $6,500 to the American Indian College Fund, according to the Ohio Republican's spokesman. The money, which falls short of the $7,000 that Ney's election campaign was given by Abramoff, was donated to the charity "in recent weeks," spokesman Brian Walsh said.

Court papers in Abramoff's case refer to an aide to DeLay who helped stop anti-gambling legislation regarding the Internet during a time in which DeLay was in the House Republican leadership. Abramoff, the papers state, paid the staffer's wife $50,000 from clients that benefited from the actions of the staffer, identified by a person close to the investigation as Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing. Rudy did not return a phone call Tuesday at his lobbying firm.

DeLay, R-Texas, voted against his party on the Internet anti-gambling legislation which was designed to make it easier for authorities to stop online gambling sites.

DeLay attorney Richard Cullen said he believes that when the investigation is completed and the truth is known that the Justice Department will conclude that his client, who had risen to House majority leader before stepping down from the post last year, did nothing wrong.

Abramoff pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion, with his conduct outlined in court papers that refers to "a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts and influence."

The political ramifications of the Abramoff probe were apparent, with minority Democrats intending to make ethics a campaign issue in this election year. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Abramoff's confession in court was "not a surprise because this Republican Congress is the most corrupt in history and the American people are paying the price."

Some political consultants and analysts are comparing potential damage from the Abramoff investigation to the 1992 House banking scandal that led to the retirement or ouster of 77 lawmakers.

Abramoff's cooperation has made lawmakers nervous.

The court papers in the Washington case refer to Ney, saying that regarding SunCruz, the congressman placed a statement drafted by Abramoff partner Michael Scanlon in the Congressional Record. The statement, the court papers say, was calculated to pressure the owner of SunCruz to sell on terms favorable to Abramoff.

Ney denies wrongdoing, saying that "at the time I dealt with Jack Abramoff, I obviously did not know, and had no way of knowing, the self-serving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff's activities."

Abramoff and his former partner, Adam Kidan, are charged with concocting a false $23 million wire transfer making it appear they contributed a sizable stake of their own cash into the $147.5 million purchase of cruise ships.

The court papers released Tuesday in Washington raised questions about Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz. The documents say the ex-staffer contacted the congressman on behalf of an Abramoff client that won a lucrative deal from Ney to improve cell phone reception in House buildings.

Volz contacted his ex-boss within one year of leaving the congressman's staff, the court papers say, a possible violation of federal conflict of interest laws which impose a one-year lobbying ban.

Volz referred questions to his attorney, who was not immediately available for comment.

Abramoff was once a well-connected lobbyist able to command almost unimaginable fees: A Louisiana tribe once paid Scanlon and him more than $30 million over 26 months. Now facing up to 11 years in prison, Abramoff apologized after pleading guilty.

"Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret for all my actions and mistakes," Abramoff said. "I hope I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer."

Abramoff Pleads to Fraud in Florida - Yahoo! News

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

A day after pleading guilty to three felonies, once-powerful lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in federal court to fraud charges stemming from his purchase of a Florida gambling boat fleet.

At a hearing Wednesday afternoon, Jack Abramoff plead to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and one count of wire fraud stemming from the SunCruz casino deal, said his attorney, Neal Sonnett.

The plea was part of an agreement with prosecutors requiring him to cooperate in a broad corruption investigation into members of Congress. On Tuesday, Abramoff, 46, pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges.

The plea agreement in Florida calls for a maximum sentence of just more than seven years, but the sentence could be reduced if he cooperates fully and would run simultaneously with whatever sentence is imposed in the Washington corruption case, Sonnett said. The remaining four counts in the Florida indictment would be dismissed.

Former Abramoff partner Adam Kidan, 41, pleaded guilty on Dec. 15 and faces sentencing March 1.

One participant in the casino deal was later murdered in a mob-style hit; three men were charged last fall. Both Abramoff and Kidan have denied involvement in the slaying.

The wide-ranging corruption probe could involve up to 20 members of Congress and aides, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

President Bush joined several lawmakers, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, in announcing plans to donate Abramoff's campaign contributions to charity. Bush's re-election campaign is giving up $6,000 donated by Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes Abramoff represented.

As an honorary "pioneer" fundraiser for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign, Abramoff helped raise over $100,000.

Abramoff won't be going to jail right away. He probably won't be sentenced for several months because he has to cooperate with the government corruption investigation. And even then, he'll probably be permitted to surrender.

A copy of the eight-page plea agreement, obtained by The Associated Press before the hearing, requires that Abramoff testify before any grand jury or court proceeding that prosecutors request and provide any documents they might want.

In return, the agreement says, the government will not further prosecute the defendant for anything he discloses "in debriefing sessions with attorneys and agents of the United States."

Abramoff and Kidan will admit to concocting a false $23 million wire transfer making it appear they contributed a sizable stake of their own cash into the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz Casinos from Miami businessman Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, Sonnett said.

Based on that transfer, lenders Foothill Capital Corp. and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd. provided $60 million for the deal.

A few months after the SunCruz sale, Boulis was slain in a gangland-style hit after leaving his Fort Lauderdale office. Three men, one of them a former associate of Kidan's who has ties to New York's Gambino crime family, were arrested in September on state murder charges.

The three men charged in the murder have pleaded not guilty. - Hastert�donates Abramoff-linked money - Jan 3, 2006

Lawmakers rush to shed financial ties to tainted lobbyist

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert became the latest lawmaker to dump campaign contributions from clients of high-flying lobbyist Jack Abramoff, giving about $70,000 to charity Tuesday.

The donation came after Abramoff pleaded guilty to corruption charges and agreed to cooperate with a federal corruption investigation in Washington.

"The speaker believes that while these contributions were legal, it is appropriate to donate the money to charity," a spokesman for the Illinois Republican, Ron Bonjean, said. Bonjean did not specify which group or groups would receive the money.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges in an agreement with federal prosecutors that could have a wide-reaching effect in Washington. (Full story)

Abramoff is a former College Republican chairman with longstanding ties to top Republicans in Washington, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, conservative activist Grover Norquist and former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed.

A source close to the probe said investigators are looking at about a half dozen members of Congress, while a senior government official told CNN the probe involves about two dozen lawmakers and staffers.

Sources told CNN that Abramoff might have thousands of e-mails in which he describes the influence-peddling in which he was involved and explains what lawmakers were doing in exchange for the money he was putting into their campaign coffers.

Abramoff's guilty plea comes as Democrats head into the 2006 congressional elections by blasting what they call a "culture of corruption" surrounding the Republican leadership.

About two-thirds of the more than $4.4 million in political donations from Abramoff, his clients and associates since 1998 went to Republicans, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog group. A search of Federal Election Commission records since 1998 found no personal donations from Abramoff to Democrats.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana told The Washington Post in December that he would return $150,000 in contributions from Abramoff, his clients and associates. Burns is up for re-election in November, and state Democrats have been hammering him over his ties to the lobbyist.

DeLay's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, has returned $5,000 from Abramoff, according to federal election records. The Texas congressman gave up his leadership post in September after his indictment on charges that he improperly steered corporate money into the state's 2002 legislative races -- a case unrelated to Abramoff's. DeLay's trial in Texas on money laundering charges is pending. He has pleaded not guilty.

And North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan said in December that he would return $67,000 in donations from Indian tribes Abramoff represented. Dorgan, the ranking Democrat on the Indian Affairs Committee that investigated Abramoff's dealings with his tribal clients, told a North Dakota newspaper that he would not keep any money that "could have been the result of any action Mr. Abramoff might have taken."

He praised the Justice Department for securing Abramoff's plea agreement, saying in a written statement Tuesday that it "confirms much of the work that we have done and much of what we have found."

CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.

Top News Article |

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's re-election campaign will give to charity several thousand dollars in contributions linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the White House said on Wednesday.
Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges on Tuesday and agreed to help U.S. prosecutors in a corruption probe that could involve several top Republican lawmakers, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the money, for which he did not have a precise figure, came from either Abramoff, his wife or American Indian tribal interests that Abramoff represented.

The Bush-Cheney '04 campaign will give the money to the American Heart Association, said McClellan. He said giving the money to charity was consistent with past practice by the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign with campaign contributions from controversial individuals.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean on Tuesday called on Bush to return to donors what he said was more than $100,000 in campaign contributions raised by Abramoff, whom he described as a major fund-raiser for the president's 2004 re-election bid.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers seeking to distance themselves from Abramoff and his clients have returned more than $200,000 in campaign contributions in recent weeks.

McClellan said Abramoff attended three Hannukah receptions at the White House over the past several years.

"The president does not know him and does not recall meeting him. It is possible that he could have met him at a holiday reception or some other widely attended event," he said.

McClellan, as he said on Tuesday, noted that Abramoff "needs to be held to account, punished for his wrongdoing that he has acknowledged."

"It is outrageous, and beyond that I don't think I want to speculate. The Justice Department continues to investigate the matter," he said.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

GOP Leaders Seek Distance From Abramoff

Hastert to Donate Money Given by Lobbyist's Clients

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006; A10

With a House Republican committee chairman implicated in the criminal case and the highest echelons of the Republican Party increasingly vulnerable to charges, GOP leaders moved yesterday to distance themselves from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and prepare to combat a growing corruption scandal.

Hours after Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion charges, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) announced that he will donate to charity the tens of thousands of dollars that he has received from Abramoff's Indian tribe clients. Top Republican strategists pushed GOP leaders to embrace legislation to curb the influence of lobbyists.

And former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called on House Republicans to elect a new majority leader to permanently replace Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), Abramoff's most powerful ally in Washington, who faces a trial on unrelated criminal charges of violating Texas campaign laws.

"Unequivocally, the House Republicans need to select a new majority leader in late January or early February," said Gingrich, who cited revelations in The Washington Post that a public advocacy group organized by DeLay associates had been largely financed by Russian energy interests.

The plea agreement signed by Abramoff yesterday implicates only one lawmaker, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), but it indicates that future revelations would ensnare other public officials. The agreement refers broadly to trips, campaign contributions and entertainment offered to public officials "in exchange for agreements that the public officials would use their official positions and influence" for Abramoff's benefit. That suggests there were specific quid pro quos that could yield additional charges of bribery and public corruption.

Ney, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the operations of the House, is never referenced by name, although Ney's spokesman confirmed that Ney is the "Representative #1" repeatedly mentioned in court documents outlining Abramoff's wrongdoing. The court documents depict "Representative #1" as accepting lavish gifts of travel, meals, entertainment and campaign contributions, then awarding congressional contracts to Abramoff's clients, inserting a statement of support in the Congressional Record, and even obtaining a travel visa for a relative of one of Abramoff's clients while in Russia on official business.

Ney spokesman Brian Walsh denied the charges, saying any official actions Ney had taken were based on "the merits and facts of the situation and not because of any improper influence from Jack Abramoff or anybody else."

"At the time I dealt with Jack Abramoff, I obviously did not know, and had no way of knowing, the self-serving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff's activities," Ney said in a statement.

Republican strategists expressed some relief that the damage could be limited. Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that if Abramoff's revelations ensnare only one lawmaker and some unknown staff members, Democrats will have little chance of sparking a political revolt when voters go to the polls in November to elect a new Congress.

But now that Abramoff has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, he could provide testimony highly damaging to other high-level lawmakers. DeLay is not mentioned, but court documents do single out his former deputy chief of staff, Tony C. Rudy. The documents detail 10 monthly payments totaling $50,000 that went to the wife of an aide identified as "Staffer A." In exchange, that aide, identified elsewhere as Rudy, helped torpedo Internet gambling legislation and a postal-rate increase, according to Abramoff's plea agreement.

Moreover, numerous references to Abramoff-financed trips to Scotland and the Northern Mariana Islands raised anew questions about DeLay's own trips to both locations with Abramoff.

Dick DeGuerin, an attorney for DeLay, said he is not concerned about the Abramoff investigation. DeLay has offered to cooperate with the Justice Department probe and has not been called in, he said.

"If Jack Abramoff tells the truth, what he'll do is clear the air, and everyone will see there's no connection between Jack Abramoff's money-dealing and Tom DeLay," DeGuerin said.

Yesterday, Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle, who has been overseeing the probe into illegal corporate donations in Texas, tried to find that connection by sending subpoenas to Abramoff's two former employers in Washington, seeking documents and any correspondence involving DeLay and certain contributions by Abramoff clients.

The subpoenas are based on evidence that the law firm Preston Gates Ellis LLP and several Abramoff clients, including the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, made donations to Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee organized by DeLay and his associates. That committee has been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate funds, and Earle now appears to be seeking information on what the donors expected to get in return for their payments.

Even before the plea agreement was unveiled, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had circulated a 1997 quote from DeLay hailing Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends."

"Tom DeLay was majority leader of the House of Representatives," said DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), "and Tom DeLay said Jack Abramoff was his best friend, nobody else."

But Democrats could be ensnared by the Abramoff case, as well. The lobbyist oversaw at the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP a team of two dozen lobbyists that included many Democrats. The biggest beneficiaries of campaign contributions directed by the Abramoff team included such high-ranking Democrats as then-Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (R.I.), a former head of the House Democrats' campaign committee.

Some key Republican strategists have complained that GOP leaders have been slow in responding to a scandal that has been unfolding for months and in holding internal elections to permanently replace DeLay in the House leadership.

With Abramoff's plea, that may change. In November, The Post detailed a fundraiser held by Hastert at one of Abramoff's restaurants that netted from the lobbyist's law firm and tribal clients at least $21,500 for the speaker's political action committee. Since then, numerous lawmakers from both parties have returned such donations, but only yesterday did Hastert join the line.

"While these contributions were legal, he believes that it is appropriate to donate the money to charity," said Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman.

Staff writers Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


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