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

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Casey's Abramoff-linked donations draw flak from GOP, Santorum

By Maeve Reston, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WASHINGTON -- Republican officials and Sen. Rick Santorum's campaign yesterday accused Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate candidate, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., of hypocrisy because Mr. Casey's campaign does not plan to return contributions from two former associates of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The controversy is part of the struggle between Washington's Democrats and Republicans to avoid the taint of the Abramoff scandal after the ex-lobbyist pleaded guilty last month to tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials resulting from a federal investigation into his activities promoting Indian tribes.

As Democrats have tried to brand the GOP as a corrupt party because of Mr. Abramoff's dealings with prominent Republicans including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Republicans have retaliated by scouring Federal Election Commission records to find contributions to Democrats from Mr. Abramoff's associates or the tribes for which he lobbied.

That exercise this week has turned up two contributions to Mr. Casey from lobbyists who worked closely with Mr. Abramoff while he was at the firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP. Officials of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and at Mr. Santorum's campaign are making an issue of $5,500 that the Democratic challenger received last year from two former employees of that law firm: Michael Smith and Edward Ayoob.

Even though the contributions by both men were made more than a year after Mr. Abramoff was pressured to resign by Greenberg Traurig and at a time when both were working for new firms, the Republican campaign committee and Mr. Santorum's campaign yesterday said Mr. Casey was applying a double standard for contributions to his campaign and those to the senator's.

Earlier this year, Mr. Casey's campaign pounded Mr. Santorum for not immediately returning contributions from several of Mr. Abramoff's tribal clients. Within the week of Mr. Abramoff's guilty plea, Mr. Santorum decided that he would donate the tribal contributions to charity because his campaign said it was virtually impossible to determine whether the money was related to Mr. Abramoff's lobbying activities.

"[Mr. Casey] is basically saying one thing and doing another," said Santorum campaign spokeswoman Virginia Davis. "Both of these gentlemen were part of Abramoff's team, and there are reports of their close connections with Abramoff. ... For Casey to not contribute these contributions to charity or return them is completely hypocritical."

Mr. Smith, who gave Mr. Casey $4,000 last June and is now a lobbyist at Cornerstone Government Affairs, declined to comment yesterday.

Mr. Ayoob also declined to comment, other than to say he was frustrated that contributions he made more than a year after he last spoke with Mr. Abramoff were being used for what he views as obvious political purposes. Mr. Ayoob, who donated a total of $1,500 on June 29 and Sept. 19 of last year, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the Duquesne University law school who worked with Mr. Abramoff after his time as a senior aide for current Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Mr. Ayoob now works for the firm of Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

Mr. Casey?s spokesman Larry Smar emphasized that neither Mr. Ayoob or Mr. Smith had been accused of wrongdoing and said the back and forth was "nothing more than a smokescreen by Santorum to try to cover up his ethical problems with the K Street project and his weekly meetings with lobbyists."

ABC News: Democrats Want Gonzales Off Abramoff Probe

31 Senate Democrats Ask Attorney General Gonzales to Step Aside in Abramoff Probe
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Thirty-one Senate Democrats on Thursday asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to remove himself from the investigation into the Jack Abramoff scandal, saying the lobbyist's dealings with President Bush and others in the administration should compel Gonzales to step aside.

"FBI officials have said the Abramoff investigation 'involves systemic corruption within the highest levels of government,'" the Democrats wrote in a letter to Gonzales. "In light of your previous service as White House Counsel and your close connection to many Administration officials, the appearance of conflict looms large."

The attorney general "can avoid any appearance of impropriety by recusing himself," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, one of the signers of the letter. "If there was ever a case that was both sensitive and rife with potential conflict it is this one."

Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said career attorneys in the public integrity section of the criminal division are handling the Abramoff probe, that Gonzales has followed all department guidelines and there is "no reason for him to recuse himself from the investigation at this time."

New questions have arisen about Abramoff's ties to the White House since a photo emerged over the weekend showing Abramoff with Bush. The White House would not release the photo or any others that Bush had taken with Abramoff.

Bush has said that he, like all presidents, is frequently photographed with people at various events and that Abramoff is not a personal friend.

Also surfacing were the contents of an e-mail from Abramoff to Washingtonian magazine claiming he had met briefly with the president nearly a dozen times and that Bush knew him well enough to make joking references to Abramoff's family.

Three former associates of Abramoff told The Associated Press this week that the lobbyist frequently told them he had strong ties to the White House through presidential confidant Karl Rove.

David H. Safavian, Bush's former top procurement officer, is under indictment on five counts of obstructing investigations into whether he aided Abramoff in efforts to acquire property around the nation's capital controlled by the General Services Administration.


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