Four congressmembers role in Abramoff lobbying scandal probed


A Justice Department investigation into possible influence-peddling by prominent Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is examining his dealings with four lawmakers, more than a dozen current and former congressional aides and two former Bush administration officials, lawyers and others involved in the case tell the WALL STREET JOURNAL Friday. Excerpts (Full paid-restricted story).

Investigators want to know whether Mr. Abramoff and his lobbying firm partners made illegal payoffs to lawmakers and aides in the form of campaign contributions, sports tickets, meals, travel and job offers, in exchange for helping their clients. A Justice Department argument that political contributions are akin to bribery if the lobbyist is looking for something in return would force a big change in the way lobbyists ply their trade.

The Justice Department's probe is far broader than previously thought. Those involved in Mr. Abramoff's case say that the Justice Department investigation could take years to complete.

Prosecutors in the department's public integrity and fraud divisions -- separate units that report to the assistant attorney general for the criminal division -- are looking into Mr. Abramoff's interactions with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney (R., Ohio), Rep. John Doolittle (R., Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), according to several people close to the investigation.

Prosecutors also are investigating at least 17 current and former congressional aides, about half of whom later took lobbying jobs with Mr. Abramoff, say lawyers and others involved in the case. Five of the former aides worked for Mr. DeLay, including Tony Rudy, Ed Buckham and Susan Hirschmann. The three were top aides to Mr. DeLay and are now Washington lobbyists. None returned calls or emails seeking comment.

The Journal explores the possible role of Sen. Burns: "Mr. Burns, the Montana congressman, helped one of Mr. Abramoff's clients -- the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan -- win a $3 million grant from Congress. Mr. Burns was the chairman of a key Senate subcommittee that allocated the funds to the tribe."

And of Rep. Doolittle: :It isn't clear what involvement, if any, Mr. Doolittle had with Mr. Abramoff. The Justice Department subpoenaed documents more than a year ago from Mr. Doolittle's wife, a Republican fund-raiser. Mr. Abramoff also hired Kevin Ring, a top Doolittle aide."

The Department is also probing former deputy Secretary of the Interior Steven Griles and former top Bush procurement officer David Safavian.