Tuesday, January 03, 2006
GOP Rocked By Growing Congressional Scandal
If anyone doubted the gravity of the scandal hanging over Congress, which is centered around the influence peddling of disgraced D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff, those doubts should have been removed by today’s development. The 47-year old pled guilty in federal court to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion, which carry a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. Abramoff, pictured at left, dressed like the characters from the Godfather, who he was known by friends to imitate, as he made his appearnace in court. He is expected to receive a much lighter sentence than 30 years if he fulfills his commitment to federal prosecutors to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.
The breadth of the investigation is making this a sleepless night in Washington. The Washington Post quotes Alice Fisher, the assistant U.S. attorney general for the criminal division, as saying the case shows that “the corruption scheme of Mr. Abramoff is very extensive, and we will continue to follow it wherever it leads.” The Post said she declined to specify how many other people might be implicated, but said, "We're going to expend resources . . . to make sure people know that government is not for sale.”
If Fisher wasn’t speculating on the number of people who might be implicated by the scandal, others were. The Associated Press reported that as many as 20 lawmakers could eventually be implicated in the investigation, as well as several congressional aides and administration officials. While most of those under investigation are Republicans, there may be some Democrats in the mix as well. Democratic Senate Minority Harry Reid Leader may be one of the most vulnerable on the Democratic side, given the large amount of contributions he received from Abramoff and his clients.
And it involves big money. A quick read of the prosecutor’s filings today indicates that the corrupt transactions in which Abramoff engaged involved at least $20 million in ill-gotten gains from Indian tribe clients, part of which he spread around to members of Congress to influence legislation, including expensive trips to exotic locations, fine dining, gifts, entertainment and large campaign contributions.
A little closer to home, the investigation may also ensnare two high-powered lobbyists employed by Indianapolis’ Barnes & Thornburg law firm in its Washington office. Neil Volz, a former chief of staff to Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, who is at the center of the investigation, has been told by federal prosecutors that he may face bribery charges according to the Post. It has also been reported that he violated federal lobbying rules by engaging in lobbying less than one year after he left Bob Ney’s congressional staff.
Volz was a part of Team Abramoff at one time, along with his Barnes & Thornburg colleague, Kevin Ring. Ring is a former staffer for Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), who is also at the center of investigation. Part of Abramoff’s plea was an admission that he had defrauded partners of his law firm out of fees it was entitled to receive. Ring is one of four other former members of the Green Traurig law firm under investigation for taking improper side payments.
Speculation in the lobbying community is that Barnes & Thornburg’s D.C. lobbying arm got greedy and wanted to get a piece of the Indian gaming business. Ring and Volz were brought on board because of their extensive portfolios in this area. That’s a decision the firm may now regret. It is interesting to observe that both men have remained with the firm even after Ring pled the 5th Amendment during a Senate committee hearing looking into the Indian casino gambling scandal and long after it was apparent both were linked to the ongoing scandal for their work as part of Team Abramoff.
And just how were the feds able to get to the bottom of this investigation so quickly? If you’ve ever heard the old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned,” you’ll understand how this investigation unfolded. The Rawstory is reporting tonight that the ex-fiance of Abramoff’s business partner, Michael Scanlon, ratted Scanlon out to the feds after Scanlon called off their engagement to marry another woman. Scanlon had met Emily Miller while the two were both working on the staff of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Miller and Scanlon began dating while Scanlon was her boss. The two both eventually left DeLay’s office. Miller went to work as a press aide at the State Department for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.
According to the Rawstory, Scanlon had confided to Miller all of his dealings with Abramoff, including e-mails and intimate details of his lobbying work with Abramoff. As soon as the engagement was broken off by Scanlon, Miller went straight to the FBI and told them everything she knew. That resulted in Scanlon’s plea late last year on a series of corruption charges, wherein he agreed to repay approximately $20 million he had defrauded from Indian tribe clients. Without her assistance, it is doubtful the feds would have nailed both Abramoff and Scanlon and obtained their cooperation in their ongoing investigation of members of Congress, congressional staffers and administration officials.
It is an election year, and it is hard to ignore the political implications. To say that the GOP’s control of the House of Representatives may be hanging in the balance is an understatement. This investigation is going to run deep into the House GOP ranks, including its leadership. Late word tonight is that Speaker Dennis Hastert announced that he is giving up more than $60,000 in political contributions he collected from Abramoff, saying he will donate the money to charity. That is a turnabout for Hastert, a move that may come a little too late to save him and his party from defeat this year.
The Bush Administration's Justice Department deserves a lot of credit for the nonpartisanship it has shown with respect to this important investigation in sharp contrast to the Clinton Justice Department run by former Attorney General Janet Reno. Reno swept under the rug a massive political scandal involving large sums of money which Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee had illegally raised from foreign sources, including communist China, to fund Democratic campaigns.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his successor, Alberto Gonzalez, in sharp contrast have aggressively pursued investigations of GOP corruption, even to the detriment of the president's own party. That includes the indictment of the Vice President's own chief of staff in the ongoing CIA leak case and the plea agreement the Justice Department reached late last year with Rep. Randy Cunningham who admitted to accepting $2.4 million in bribes. Their dogged pursuit of rooting out political corruption in Washington is a credit to how our justice system is really suppose to work when the rule of law rather than politics is the guiding principle.