By James V. Grimaldi and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 5, 2005
Rep. Robert W. Ney notified Congress yesterday that he had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury examining the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff, making the Ohio Republican the first lawmaker to receive such a demand in the expanding influence-peddling investigation.
The subpoena, delivered to Ney in recent days, seeks records and testimony from his office. His spokesman, Brian Walsh, said it is the first contact Ney has received from federal investigators looking at Abramoff, once one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists. Ney has denied any wrongdoing.
"I voluntarily provided information to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last year and I have offered to make myself available to meet with the House Ethics Committee," Ney said in a statement yesterday. "I believe, however, that although the government's investigation of Mr. Abramoff has been well-publicized through other sources, it is inappropriate for my office to comment in any detail about an ongoing investigation."
Under House rules, members must announce subpoenas, and they are then reported in the Congressional Record. Ney received the subpoena earlier in the week, and it was announced to the House yesterday. Walsh said that "we do not believe that there would be any grounds" for Ney to be a target of the investigation.
Ney has received campaign contributions from Abramoff and has accepted favors, including dinners at the lobbyist's downtown restaurant, a fundraiser at the lobbyist's MCI Center box, and a golfing trip to Scotland in August 2002, according to public records, e-mails, interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
As chairman of the powerful House Administration Committee, Ney promised to add language to a bill to reopen a casino for a Texas Indian tribe that Abramoff represented. After Ney agreed to prepare the legislation, Abramoff directed tribal officials to make three contributions totaling $32,000 to Ney's campaign and political action committees. A Ney spokesman recently said that money has been donated to Ohio charities.
In 2000, Ney placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff's purchase of a Florida gambling company, SunCruz Casinos. Ney has said he was not fully informed by the lobbyist. Abramoff and business partner Adam Kidan were indicted in August on fraud charges related to the purchase.
Federal prosecutors in Florida are investigating Ney's role in the SunCruz deal, according to people familiar with the probe who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The grand jury that subpoenaed Ney is based in the District.
Ney also approved a 2002 license for an Israeli telecommunications company to install cell-phone antennas for the House. The company later paid Abramoff $280,000 for lobbying, according to lobbying disclosure forms. Records obtained by The Post show the firm also donated $50,000 to a charity that Abramoff sometimes used to secretly pay for lobbying activities. Walsh said that although Ney had the authority to make the antenna decision on his own he asked a group of wireless companies to select the contractor. Walsh said Ney's actions were not based on any connection to Abramoff.
Abramoff stated in an e-mail to tribal officials that "our friend" -- later identified in Senate testimony as Ney -- sought the Scotland trip after he agreed to help Abramoff's Texas Indian clients. Abramoff then arranged for the charity, the Capital Athletic Foundation, to pay for the trip. Ney said in a statement a year ago that Abramoff told him that going on the trip would help support a charitable organization through meetings the lobbyist organized through Scottish Parliament officials.
Another public official has come under scrutiny for the Scotland trip. David H. Safavian, then chief of staff at the General Services Administration, also went on the trip with Ney, Abramoff and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed. Safavian, who went on to become the chief White House procurement officer, was indicted last month on charges that he lied to investigators looking into the Scotland trip when he said Abramoff had no business before his agency.
Ney's official report to Congress listed a purpose of the trip as "speech to Scottish Parliamentarians." However, there is no record of Ney's speech in the Scottish Parliament's register of official visits. In addition, at the time of Ney's trip, the Scottish Parliament was out for its August recess, spokeswoman Sally Coyne said.
Although no other lawmakers have been subpoenaed in the Abramoff investigation, Julie Doolittle, wife of Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), and a company controlled by the husband of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) have received subpoenas from the grand jury.
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.