Mr. Abramoff's Plea

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

OMINOUSLY FOR members of Congress and their staffers who enjoyed themselves at his expense and then did his bidding, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff agreed yesterday to plead guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion. His deal follows a similar plea by Michael Scanlon, Mr. Abramoff's partner in lobbying and in crime. Mr. Abramoff admitted to bilking his clients, deceiving his law firm, misusing charities and lying on his income taxes. He also admitted to bribing at least one member of Congress and his staff, plying them with perks and being more than amply thanked by their help for his clients. Now that the two biggest private-sector targets in this case have agreed to cooperate, prosecutors can concentrate on the public officials involved.

As outlined in the charges filed against Mr. Abramoff, he and Mr. Scanlon "provided a stream of things of value" to a member of Congress and his staff, "including but not limited to a lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world-famous courses, tickets to sporting events and other entertainment, regular meals at defendant Abramoff's upscale restaurant, and campaign contributions for Representative #1, his political action committee, and other political committees on behalf of Representative #1." The public record makes clear that the unnamed representative is Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee.

If the allegations are true, Mr. Ney ought to be not only ashamed but also embarrassed at how cheaply he and his staff could be bought. "In exchange for those things of value," the document dryly recites, the lobbyists obtained "agreements to support and pass legislation, agreements to place statements into the Congressional Record, meetings with defendant Abramoff's clients, and advancing the application of a client of defendant Abramoff for a license to install wireless telephone infrastructure in the House of Representatives."

Most of these details were already known. But Mr. Abramoff's cooperation -- he's been talking behind the scenes to prosecutors for months -- could expand prosecutors' knowledge about his entanglements with other officials. Notable among them are former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who took three overseas trips with Mr. Abramoff and received more than $70,000 from the lobbyist, his associates and tribal clients, and the former second-ranking official at the Interior Department, J. Steven Griles, the recipient of an Abramoff job offer and a target of numerous Abramoff-initiated lobbying contacts.

Mr. Abramoff's plea -- he agreed to pay $25 million in restitution and faces a lengthy prison term -- wouldn't have come about without enterprising journalism, the tenacity of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the skilled efforts of federal prosecutors. But one player remains notable for its absence: the House ethics committee, which has been silent and, for most of the past year, dysfunctional. It is critical that the panel -- and its Senate counterpart, if appropriate -- rouse itself to deal with the scandal in its midst.

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