Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lobbyist's Role in Hiring Aides Is Investigated

It's time for another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show. Tonight's thrilling episode: HELP WANTED! This is from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 - With a federal corruption case intensifying, prosecutors investigating Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist, are examining whether he brokered lucrative jobs for Congressional aides at powerful lobbying firms in exchange for legislative favors, people involved in the case have said.

The attention paid to how the aides obtained jobs occurs as Mr. Abramoff is under mounting pressure to cooperate with prosecutors as they consider a case against lawmakers. Participants in the case, who insisted on anonymity because the investigation is secret, said he could try to reach a deal in the next six weeks.

Despite charging Indian tribes that were clients tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, Mr. Abramoff has told friends that he is running out of money. In a new approach that could contribute to the pressures, prosecutors are sifting through evidence related to the hiring of several former Congressional aides by a lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, where Mr. Abramoff worked from 2000 to last year, according to people who know about the inquiry. That course could impel a new set of Mr. Abramoff's former associates to cooperate to avoid prosecution.

Investigators are said to be especially interested in how Tony C. Rudy, a former deputy chief of staff to Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, and Neil G. Volz, a former chief of staff to Representative Robert W. Ney of Ohio, obtained lobbying positions with big firms on K Street.

The hiring pattern is "very much a part of" what prosecutors are focusing on, a person involved in the case said. Another participant confirmed that investigators were trying to determine whether aides conducted "job negotiations with Jack Abramoff" while they were in a position to help him on Capitol Hill.

Prosecutors are trying to establish that "it's not just a ticket to a ballgame, it's major jobs" that exchanged hands, the participant in the case said. Also under examination are payments to lobbyists and lawmakers' wives, including Mr. Rudy's wife, Lisa Rudy, whose firm, Liberty Consulting, worked in consultation with Mr. Abramoff, people involved in case said.

Two interesting items stem from this story. The first is the allegation that Abramoff is running out of money. If that's true, then there is a possibility that Abramoff may try to cut a deal with federal prosecutors. Already Abramoff's business partner, Michael Scanlon, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in exchange for cooperating with federal investigators to determine whether money and gifts were used to peddle votes and influence from lawmakers. The second aspect of this story is Abramoff's influence if obtaining lucrative jobs for Congressional aids at lobbying firms, also in exchange for legislative favors. Rudy and Volz are certainly the poster boys for this little Abramoff deal. And what's more interesting is that Rudy worked as deputy chief of staff for Tom DeLay, while Volz was the former chief of staff for Robert Ney. Both DeLay and Ney are certainly in the federal investigator's sights regarding the Abramoff scandal. It is all too cozy and neat--Rudy and Volz get lobbying jobs from ubber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is friends with both DeLay and Ney, who are also Rudy and Volz's former Congressional employers. And to top it off, Rudy's wife works for a consulting firm that was also accepting payments from Abramoff. It is almost buddy-buddy relationship, where business contracts and legislation is cemented through these close friendships, within their own little give-and-take world.

It gets better. Continuing on:

The focus also expanded from Mr. Abramoff's work for Indian tribes with the end of hearings by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The hearings set out to examine whether the tribes, which paid $82 million to Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon, had been defrauded. The panel, headed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, avoided looking at the ties between the lobbyists and specific lawmakers, leaving that to the inquiry's interagency group.

The Senate hearings uncovered many patterns of Mr. Abramoff's activities, including his offering favors to officials while making deals on government work. In one case, a former senior Interior Department official, J. Steven Griles, testified that Mr. Abramoff had offered him a position at Greenberg Traurig while Mr. Griles was in a position to affect decisions involving Mr. Abramoff's Indian clients. Mr. Griles said he reported the offer to his department's ethics division and rejected it.

Prosecutors are trying to determine whether Mr. Abramoff made similar overtures to other well positioned government workers, especially former aides to Republican leaders in of the House and Senate. Such gestures could be considered as bribery or a conflict of interest, especially if the interests of the two parties were entangled.

Of particular interest, according to several people involved in the case, are how Mr. Rudy, who left Mr. DeLay's office in 2001 to join Greenberg Traurig, and Mr. Volz, who left Mr. Ney's office in 2002 for that firm, obtained their positions. Investigators believe Mr. Abramoff may have solicited help from both men and their supervisors on Capitol Hill while helping arrange for high-paying positions, people familiar with case said.

Mr. Rudy now works for the Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying firm run by Ed Buckham, another former senior aide to Mr. DeLay. Alexander Strategy is also under scrutiny for its ties to Mr. Abramoff and for putting Mr. DeLay's wife, Christine, on its payroll for several years.

Here we've got a nice example of Abramoff offering a lobbying job to Griles, while Griles was in a position to affect the decision regarding Abramoff's indian tribe clients (This probably stems from the letter-writing campaign to Interior Secretary Gail Norton to deny a particular tribe's request on building a casino.). I also find it interesting that Sen. John McCain, who headed the panel investigating Abramoff's defrauding his indian tribe clients, avoided looking into these ties between Abramoff's selling jobs to Congressional aids for legislative favors. Why did McCain refuse to look into this? Did he know, or suspect, that Abramoff was targeting Republican congressmen, and their aids, in the selling of these jobs?

So there's a lot more questions here. Stay tuned.

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