For weeks, we’ve been reading that the Justice Department is investigating Rep. Bob Ney’s (R., OH) relationship with Jack Abramoff. The Washington Post writes:
Prosecutors have already told…Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), 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 events…that interest investigators are connected to the purchase by Abramoff and [business partner] Kidan of SunCruz Casinos, owner of a fleet of Florida gambling boats. Ney twice placed comments in the Congressional Record about SunCruz, first criticizing its former owner when Abramoff and Kidan were in difficult purchase negotiations and then, in October, praising Kidan’s new management. Abramoff and Kidan are facing trial in January on charges of defrauding lenders in their purchase of the casino boats.
Ney, and many other Republicans, allegedly dined and hosted events at Abramoff’s Signatures restaurant without paying. Abramoff also took Ney, Tom DeLay and other Republican House members on a golf junket to Scotland. It appears that Abramoff solicited contributions to his Capital Athletic Foundation (a supposed non-profit that was in reality a means of “laundering” and concealing the origin of the funds) from his Indian tribe clients. That money was used, in turn, to fund the golf outings and other questionable wining and dining of key politicians who wielded power over Indian affairs issues in the House.
What’s new and eye-opening about the Post story is that it names new names who’ve possibly become ensnared in the burgeoning scandal:
35 to 40 [Justice Dept.] 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.
The Times wrote an editorial this week which noted that the net could be cast even wider:
An enterprising inquiry by The Associated Press uncovered no fewer than 33 lawmakers from both parties who suddenly pressed the Interior Department for special consideration of a relatively obscure Abramoff tribal cause. They did so, it turns out, while at the same time receiving more than $800,000 in campaign donations from Mr. Abramoff’s elaborate lobbying and fund-raising machine…
Speaker Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, received $21,500 for his campaign kitty seven days before writing a letter to Interior officials reflecting the Abramoff position in a tribal casino rivalry. A similar pleading resulted in $10,000 in donations for the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. The lawmakers deny any sort of quid pro quo, insisting they were only expressing their long-held opposition to expanding tribal gambling.
It seems absolutely idiotic that given the numbers of past legislators who’ve been charged with similar quid pro quo (or you could call it outright bribery) arrangements and ousted that these brilliant solons wouldn’t have been quite as brazen as they appear to have been.
This case now rises in importance because if even a handful of these people are indicted I would think it’d be hard for them to run credible campaigns in the midterm elections. This in turn could hurt Republican’s chances of retaining control of the House.
Please, can someone come up with a good name for this scandal? Every scandal worthy of the name deserves, well…a name worthy of the scandal. There’s always Neygate or Delaygate and they almost rhyme. But they don’t acknowledge the potential scope of the matter. Abramoffgate doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue or keyboard. I like Red Scorpiongate, but it’s too obscure and off-topic. Indiangate is probably too politically incorrect. I think we’ve somehow got to get away from the Watergate echoes. They make new scandals seem a pallid comparison to the original. But I think Jack’s breaking new ground here and deserves his own fresh notoriety in the D.C. Scandal Hall of Fame. How about a few other suggestions from my readers?
One wonders why Abramoff himself has not been indicted. Could he be bargaining for a deal as well? It’s nice for the feds to have Scanlon in the bag, but to bring down some of the most powerful players in Washington will take a lot more substantiating evidence. I would think they’ll need at least a few more plea bargains from individuals who can nail the key players. Abramoff would be big for them. However, Abramoff was such a key player in the fraud that it’s hard to stomach striking a deal with him.
On a related matter, if any Hollywood screenwriters are reading, I think this story would make a tremendous film. Abramoff, while a horrid human being, would make a great film character: the greed, self-absorption, deceit, arrogance and sheer chutzpah are qualities made for cinema. Diane Gordon, one of my readers, has suggested George Clooney for the part. Personally, I think George is a little too smart and a little too pretty for the part. You need an actor who can portray Abramoff’s grotesque personality traits along with his tremendous will to power. You’d have to work hard to humanize the guy since he seems, at least from what you read, to be so utterly detestable. It’d be a hard act for an actor. But Jack Abramoff and this scandal are too juicy NOT to become a movie.