WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 - The Justice Department has signaled for the first time in recent weeks that prominent members of Congress could be swept up in the corruption investigation of Jack Abramoff, the former Republican superlobbyist who diverted some of his tens of millions of dollars in fees to provide lavish travel, meals and campaign contributions to the lawmakers whose help he needed most.
Scanlon & Abramoff
The investigation by a federal grand jury, which began more than a year ago, has created alarm on Capitol Hill, especially with the announcement Friday of criminal charges against Michael Scanlon, Mr. Abramoff's former lobbying partner and a former top House aide to Representative Tom DeLay.
For those who've forgotten or simply been hiding under rock -- Mike Scanlon is the really sensitive and funny guy who was saying the following in an email:
Judging by the sentiments of Mike Scanlon, a former spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and Abramoff's secret partner, conservative Christians provided an essential and unwitting tool in the lobbyists' fight in Louisiana on behalf of the Coushatta tribe against rival gambling operations. Scanlon composed a memo in October 2001 that he sent to Coushatta lawyer Kathy VanHoof and Abramoff describing the role religious radio could play in the effort:
"Simply put," Scanlon wrote, "we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information from the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the Internet and telephone trees."
Scanlon detailed a strategy to advertise on Christian radio against proposed casinos at Delta Downs and Pinnacle. "We will produce and air at least two radio ads that give biblical reasons why [the casinos] should be blocked and the tracks shut down." Scanlon recommended providing $575,000 for "solidifying the support of the Christian conservatives and the minority religious outlets of SW Louisiana."
Meanwhile back in the NYT article:
The charges against Mr. Scanlon identified no lawmakers by name, but a summary of the case released by the Justice Department accused him of being part of a broad conspiracy to provide "things of value, including money, meals, trips and entertainment to federal public officials in return for agreements to perform official acts" - an attempt at bribery, in other words, or something close to it.
Mr. Abramoff, who is under indictment in a separate bank-fraud case in Florida, has not been charged by the federal grand jury here. But Mr. Scanlon's lawyer says he has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation, suggesting that Mr. Abramoff's day in court in Washington is only a matter of time.
So Scanlon has already plead guilty, mostly likely with an offer to rat on the bigger fish - most likely including members of Congress. Hey Mr. Delay - ready for your next mug shot?
Scholars who specialize in the history and operations of Congress say that given the brazenness of Mr. Abramoff's lobbying efforts, as measured by the huge fees he charged clients and the extravagant gifts he showered on friends on Capitol Hill, almost all of them Republicans, the investigation could end up costing several lawmakers their careers, if not their freedom.
The investigation threatens to ensnarl many outside Congress as well, including Interior Department officials and others in the Bush administration who were courted by Mr. Abramoff on behalf of the Indian tribe casinos that were his most lucrative clients.
The inquiry has already reached into the White House; a White House budget official, David H. Safavian, resigned only days before his arrest in September on charges of lying to investigators about his business ties to Mr. Abramoff, a former lobbying partner.
"I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century," said Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional specialist at the Brookings Institution. "I've been around Washington for 35 years, watching Congress, and I've never seen anything approaching Abramoff for cynicism and chutzpah in proposing quid pro quos to members of Congress."
Even by the gold-plated standards of Washington lobbying firms, the fees paid to Mr. Abramoff were extraordinary. A former president of the College Republicans who turned to lobbying after a short-lived career as a B-movie producer, Mr. Abramoff, with his lobbying team, collected more than $80 million from the Indian tribes and their gambling operations; he was known by lobbying rivals as "Casino Jack."
Mr. Abramoff's lobbying work was not limited to the casinos, though. Newly disclosed documents from his files show that he asked for $9 million in 2003 from the president of Gabon, in West Africa, to set up a White House meeting with President Bush; there was an Oval Office meeting last year, although there is no evidence in the public record to show that Mr. Abramoff had a role in the arrangements.
The real question to me doesn't seem to be whether several members of Congress will eventually be frog-marched out of the Capital -- but simply how many, and whether they'll have the chutzpa to try and run again in 2006. Something tells me that they probably will, and it will be glorious to behold as they go down in flames, taking GOP control of congress with them.
Update From the Washington Post:
The Justice Department's wide-ranging investigation of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has entered a highly active phase as prosecutors are beginning to move on evidence pointing to possible corruption in Congress and executive branch agencies, lawyers involved in the case said.
Prosecutors have already told one lawmaker, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) [Pictured at Left], and his former chief of staff that they are preparing a possible bribery case against them, according to two sources knowledgeable about the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The 35 to 40 investigators and prosecutors on the Abramoff case are focused on at least half a dozen members of Congress, lawyers and others close to the probe said. The investigators are looking at payments made by Abramoff and his colleagues to the wives of some lawmakers and at actions taken by senior Capitol Hill aides, some of whom went to work for Abramoff at the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, lawyers and others familiar with the probe said.
Former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R), now facing separate campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas, is one of the members under scrutiny, the sources said. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) and other members of Congress involved with Indian affairs, one of Abramoff's key areas of interest, are also said to be among them.
Prosecutions and plea deals have become more likely, the lawyers said, now that Abramoff's former partner -- public relations executive Michael Scanlon -- has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and to testify about gifts that he and his K Street colleagues showered on lawmakers, allegedly in exchange for official favors.
Uh oh, it looks like the lesser Rat (Scanlon) has already jumped off the ship only to let the bigger Rats burn as the hull catches fire.