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Getting the Story on Jack Abramoff

Grimaldi and Schmidt spent days in Florida federal courts looking at SunCruz bankruptcy records. Grimaldi came across a bank loan application on which Abramoff listed as references Tony Rudy, then DeLay's deputy chief of staff, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).

"The eureka find was that there were congressional links to this fraudulent casino deal. He had been telling local reporters that he had little to do with SunCruz. Yet the evidence was hiding in plain sight in court records," Grimaldi said.

One of the troves that kept the story expanding was Abramoff's e-mails. He was an inveterate e-mailer, and those e-mails found their way to Schmidt.

One other effective approach came from R. Jeffrey Smith, who likes to show up when people don't expect him and ask important questions. "In the stunned first few moments," he said, he often teased information out of people who didn't want to talk.

Sources often know important facts that they don't reveal until they see how the story is going to turn out. When it became clear that Abramoff was going down, people became comfortable talking, Smith said. "You put a crack in the wall, the crack spreads, and, like water, information begins to flow."

Schmidt, Grimaldi and Smith reported on Abramoff's ties to members of Congress and their staffs, whom he lavishly wined and dined, took on expensive foreign trips, and gave skybox seats at local sports events. Smith obtained a travel invoice to Scotland and England for DeLay; the invoice had a credit card number. After aggressively working two sources, Smith found out it was Abramoff's credit card.

Two persistent complaints have come the ombudsman's way on this story. One, from Democrats, is that The Post is trying to distance DeLay from Abramoff because a Dec. 29 story said the two were not personally close. DeLay had once called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends" and said on Fox News recently that they were friends.

Schmidt and Grimaldi said that their reporting showed that the two were politically, not personally, close. Whatever the degree of closeness, the strength of Schmidt's and Grimaldi's reporting has tied the two together inextricably.

The second complaint is from Republicans, who say The Post purposely hasn't nailed any Democrats. Several stories, including one on June 3 by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, a Post business reporter, have mentioned that a number of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), have gotten Abramoff campaign money.

So far, Schmidt and Grimaldi say their reporting on the investigations hasn't put Democrats in the first tier of people being investigated.

But stay tuned. This story is nowhere near over.

Deborah Howell can be reached at 202-334-7582 or atombudsman@washpost.com.


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