Jack in the Box

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006; 10:33 AM

It's not a happy new year for anyone who had anything to do with Jack Abramoff.

The plea agreement he struck yesterday means he's now expected to sing like a canary to minimize his jail time. And that means a number of members of Congress and some of their top aides should be sweating bullets. Their onetime ally is now, for prosecutorial purposes, their enemy.

This is hardly good news for such Republicans as Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, and Abramoff was a major Bush fundraiser. But he also did business with a few Democrats such as North Dakota's Byron Dorgan, some of whom have been rushing to return the campaign cash he gave them.

Back in 2002, before we knew Abramoff was a big-time sleazebag, the New York Times ran a piece on how he was using his ties to DeLay to become a $500-an-hour lobbyist, which included this howler:

"Unlike many lobbyists who take almost any client who is willing to pay their fee, Mr. Abramoff says he represents only those who stand for conservative principles. They include three Indian tribes with big casinos and, until recently, the Northern Mariana Islands. 'All of my political work,' he said, 'is driven by philosophical interests, not by a desire to gain wealth.' "

Uh, right. The guy loved money, as his piles of e-mails made clear. He milked his clients, particularly Indian tribes, even as he disparaged them as "morons" and "troglodytes." Oh, he said yesterday he's sorry. Prosecutors said they would recommend a 10-year sentence.

The political question is whether l'affaire Abramoff will blossom into a major "culture of corruption" argument that the Democrats are trying to pin on the Republicans for this year's campaign season, or whether people will just assume that corrupt lobbying is a permanent feature of Beltway life.

One lawmaker who could be helped: John McCain, who held hearings on the Abramoff scam and is pushing radical (by D.C. standards) restrictions on lobbyists.

"The corruption inquiry involving Mr. Abramoff, potentially one of the most explosive in Congressional history, has expanded in recent months to encompass dozens of political operatives, including former Congressional aides and lobbyists suspected of arranging bribes in exchange for legislative work, participants in the case said," the New York Times reports.

"His testimony, coupled with that of Michael Scanlon, a former Abramoff business associate who pleaded guilty in November, reaches into the executive and legislative branches and appears to be drawing an ever-tighter ring of evidence around the former House Republican majority leader, Tom DeLay, and other senior Congressional Republicans."

Says the Los Angeles Times : "Abramoff now becomes the chief witness for the prosecution in its influence-peddling probe of Congress that some say presages the biggest corruption scandal on Capitol Hill in nearly three decades. It has already ensnared at least one member of Congress and two former congressional aides, and could now lead into unknown territory."

The Wall Street Journal adds: "It remains unclear which lawmakers prosecutors are looking at, and also how persuasive Mr. Abramoff could be in helping to make potential cases against any of them stick. A onetime chairman of College Republicans -- a close ally of such party luminaries as Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist -- Mr. Abramoff says he has information that could implicate 60 lawmakers."

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