Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Abramoff Deals, Congress Quakes ; in Pleading Guilty, the Lobbyist Agrees to Help Prosecutors Nab Others

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Abramoff Deals, Congress Quakes ; in Pleading Guilty, the Lobbyist Agrees to Help Prosecutors Nab Others

Article excerpt

Washington's long-awaited "A-bomb" has gone off.

Super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea Tuesday to three felony counts sets the stage for the biggest congressional scandal perhaps in decades, certainly since the Republicans took over Congress 10 years ago, pledging clean government.

In exchange for his guilty pleas, in both the Washington case and a separate Florida case in which he was indicted last year, Mr. Abramoff will cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating members of Congress, Capitol Hill aides, and other lobbyists. Political players with ties to Abramoff and his network, who knew the lobbyist was preparing to cut a deal, have been sweating for months. Now they're sweating harder.

Though members of both parties are involved, analysts expect Republicans - who control both houses of Congress - to bear the brunt of the political fallout. Abramoff, who has close ties to former House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas, allegedly funneled campaign donations to lawmakers, who were treated to lavish trips and meals, in exchange for official acts.

"It could end some careers," says Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the non- partisan Cook Political report.

Stanley Brand, a Washington defense lawyer and former Democratic counsel to the House, predicts at least six members of Congress and at least as many staff will be convicted by the end of the year.

Besides Representative DeLay, who is already under indictment in Texas, other members who are already battling allegations over their associations with Abramoff include Sen. Conrad Burns (R) of Montana, Rep. Bob Ney (R) of Ohio, and Rep. John Doolittle (R) of California.

Federal campaign records show that about 220 members of Congress received some $1.7 million in political contributions from Abramoff and his associates and clients, including American Indian tribes, between 2001 and 2004. According to Bloomberg news service, 201 of those members are still in Congress; Republicans received 64 percent of that money.

Since the whiff of scandal began to emerge around Abramoff, members have been rushing to return his contributions or donate the money to charity. But not everyone who ever took Abramoff-related money or perks is guilty of wrongdoing.

"It's not enough to take a campaign contribution," says Mr. Brand. "What's criminal is accepting the contribution in return for an express agreement to perform an official act. Beyond campaign contributions, one can't accept bribes or gratuities of any kind in return for official acts." Members of the executive branch may also be implicated in the investigation, he says.

"The line between a bribe and a legal contribution is very thin, but it is that line that keeps you out of jail," says Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. …

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