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Lawmakers Under Scrutiny in Probe of Lobbyist
The statute of limitations may also soon run out on a 2001 Super Bowl trip sponsored by SunCruz that sources said investigators have reviewed. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that aides to Burns and DeLay were ferried to Tampa on a SunCruz corporate jet arranged by Abramoff. Ney and his sons were invited to the 2001 Super Bowl outing, former Abramoff associates said, but did not go.
The Hill aides were treated to the game and a night of gambling on a Sun Cruz ship. They were offered $500 in gambling chips, sources knowledgeable about the trip said.
The Post has reported that Burns, who received $137,000 in contributions from Abramoff lobbyists and their tribal clients, obtained a controversial $3 million school construction grant for one of Abramoff's wealthy tribal clients after pressuring the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Investigators are also gathering information about Abramoff's hiring of several congressional wives, sources said, as well as his referral of clients to Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying and consulting firm run by former senior aides to DeLay. Financial disclosure forms show that the firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, from 1998 to 2002.
Former Abramoff lobbying associates have said that Abramoff shared some of his high-paying clients with the group, including Malaysian interests, the Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe and online gambling firms. Federal investigators have questioned some former Abramoff associates about whether those referrals were related to Christine DeLay's employment there, sources said.
Alexander Strategy Group is run by former DeLay senior staffers Edwin A. Buckham and Tony C. Rudy. Rudy served as DeLay's deputy chief of staff until 2001, when he took a job with Abramoff, and later moved on to join Buckham.
Investigators are looking into whether Rudy aided Abramoff's lobbying clients while he was working on the Hill, the sources said, and are reviewing payments from Abramoff clients and associates to Liberty Consulting, a political firm founded by Rudy's wife, Lisa. The Washington Post reported last month that Rudy, while on DeLay's staff, helped scuttle a bill opposed by eLottery Inc., an Abramoff client, and that Abramoff had eLottery pay a foundation to hire Liberty Consulting.
Richard Cullen, an attorney for the DeLays, said Christine DeLay was hired by Buckham, an old family friend, to determine the favorite charity of every member of Congress. She was paid $3,200 to $3,400 a month for three years, or about $115,000 total, he said.
"It wasn't like she did this 9 to 5, but it was an ongoing project," Cullen said. He said Christine DeLay's work was commensurate with the project and had nothing to do with her husband or any official congressional business. "This was something that she found to be very interesting, very challenging and very worthwhile," Cullen said.
Rudy and Buckham and their attorneys did not return calls seeking comment.
Abramoff's connections to Doolittle are also of interest to investigators, sources said. Doolittle's former chief of staff, Kevin A. Ring, went to work with Abramoff. Doolittle's wife, Julie, owned a consulting firm that was hired by Abramoff and his firm, Greenberg Traurig, to do fundraising for a charity he founded. Two sources close to the investigation said that Ring, while working for Abramoff, was an intermediary in the hiring of Julie Doolittle's firm, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc., which last year received a subpoena from the grand jury investigating Abramoff.
Julie Doolittle's attorney, William L. Stauffer Jr., said Sierra Dominion Financial was hired by Greenberg Traurig to provide "event planning, marketing and related services, as requested by Mr. Abramoff" for Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation and his Signatures restaurant. Sierra Dominion received a monthly retainer from Greenberg Traurig from January 2003 until February 2004, at a rate similar to that paid by other Sierra Dominion clients, Stauffer said.
Abramoff frequently used the athletic foundation as a pass-through organization to run lobbying efforts and to pay for expenses, records show. Julie Doolittle was hired to put on a fundraiser for the foundation at the International Spy Museum, but the event was canceled because it had been scheduled to take place just at the Iraq war was commencing, Stauffer said.
"Sierra Dominion primarily performed public relations and other event planning services for the Spy Museum event," Stauffer said in an e-mail reply to questions. "This included responding to all individuals calling the Capital Athletic Foundation concerning the Spy Museum event, identifying (and contacting) possible attendees for the event, and assisting in fund raising strategy and letters."
Doolittle's office denied any connection between the firm's work and official acts.
"In no way did Sierra Dominion's business services work for Greenberg Traurig have any relationship to Congressman Doolittle's official duties as a member of the House of Representatives," said Doolittle spokeswoman Laura Blackmann.
"Congressman Doolittle has never received a subpoena regarding this matter, nor has he ever been contacted by the Justice Department to provide information or be questioned," she said.
The Justice Department investigation is also looking into Abramoff's influence among executive branch officials. Sources said prosecutors are continuing to seek information about Abramoff's dealings with then-Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, including a job offer from the lobbyist at a time when he was seeking department actions on behalf of his tribal clients.
The former top procurement official in the Bush administration, David H. Safavian, has already been charged with lying and obstruction of justice in connection with the Abramoff investigation. Safavian, who traveled to Scotland with Ney on a golf outing arranged by Abramoff, is accused of concealing from federal investigators that Abramoff was seeking to do business with the General Services Administration at the time of the golf trip. Safavian was then GSA chief of staff.