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January 3, 2006
Let The Chips Fall Where They May

Congratulations should come from all Americans to Department of Justice prosecutors who got lobbyist Jack Abramoff to agree to a plea deal by acknowledging a years-long string of corrupt activity in Washington DC. The prosecutors got Abramoff to plead guilty to a wide range of offenses, guaranteeing that he will either cooperate to the bitter end or spend the rest of his life in prison:

"I plead guilty, your honor," Abramoff said in flat, unemotional tones, accepting a plea bargain that said he had provided lavish trips, golf outings, meals and more to public officials "in exchange for a series of official acts."

In one case, he reported payments totaling $50,000 to the wife of a congressional aide to help block legislation for a client. The aide worked for DeLay, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Public corruption aside, Abramoff admitted defrauding four Indian tribes and other clients, taking millions in kickbacks from a one-time business partner, misusing a charity he had established and failing to pay income taxes on millions of ill-gotten gains.

He is expected to plead guilty to additional charges on Wednesday in Florida in connection with charges stemming from the 2000 purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.

At the Justice Department, officials said they intend to make use of the trove of e-mails and other material in Abramoff's possession as part of a probe that is believed to be focusing on as many as 20 members of Congress and aides.

Regardless of which politicians get proven corrupt -- and that means proven in court, not just allegations and indictments -- both Republicans and Democrats will be well rid of them. Since the Republicans have controlled Congress for the past decade or more, we can fully expect this to ensnare more GOP politicians than Democrats. Money always finds its way to those whose power runs highest and whose ethics run lowest. And even if an honest and fair investigation and prosecution only convicts Republicans -- I'm still looking forward to the housecleaning. Politicians enriching themselves on the public trust deserve to spend some quality time at Club Fed.

However, if Democrats think this might provide them with the Fitzmas they failed to get late last year, they will be somewhat disappointed. Abramoff, like any good lobbyist, has members of both parties in his Rolodex (or Blackberry -- betraying my age on the Rolodex comment, I think). CQ readers should already be familiar with the cast of Democratic characters likely to be conferring with counsel tonight:

* Reps James Clyburn (D-SC) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) - Longtime House ethics rules that applied to the 1996 and 1997 trips to the Northern Mariana Islands have strictly prohibited lawmakers and their staffs from accepting any congressional trips from lobbyists or their firms. The records state Preston Gates [Abramoff's lobbying firm] paid hotel and airfare for Thompson and Clyburn for travel to the island in January 1997. The two lawmakers filed reports to Congress saying a private, nonprofit group, not Abramoff's firm, paid the travel.

* Indian tribe money, which appears to be at the center of Abramoff's conviction today, went to many Republicans -- but also made its way into the following Democratic pockets:

Rep. Patrick Kennedy: $128K
Senator Harry Reid: >$40K
Senator Tom Daschle: >$40K
Rep. Dick Gephardt: $32.5K

* Harry Reid has a special problem with Abramoff, as the above link detailed last June. Not only did Reid get in excess of forty grand from Abramoff's clients, but that Abramoff hired one of Reid's political aides, who simultaneously helped raise funds for Reid. As the Post article reported in June:

James Patrick Manley, Reid's spokesman, also asserted that Reid's connection to tribes was remote from Abramoff. He said that Reid does not know Abramoff. But Abramoff did hire as one of his lobbyists Edward P. Ayoob, a veteran Reid legislative aide. Manley acknowledged that Ayoob helped raise campaign money for his former boss. Lawyers close to the Abramoff operation said that Ayoob held a fundraising reception for Reid at Greenberg Traurig's offices here.

* Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) had been the ranking member on the Senate oversight committee that should have caught Abramoff's influence peddling. Instead, Dorgan drank deep from Abramoff's glass:

New evidence is emerging that the top Democrat on the Senate committee currently investigating Jack Abramoff got political money arranged by the lobbyist back in 2002 shortly after the lawmaker took action favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients.

A lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians told The Associated Press that Abramoff instructed the tribe to send $5,000 to Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record)'s political group just three weeks after the North Dakota Democrat urged fellow senators to fund a tribal school program Abramoff's clients wanted to use.

The check was one of about five dozen the Coushattas listed in a tribal ledger as being issued on March 6, 2002, to various lawmakers' campaigns and political causes at the instruction of Abramoff, tribal attorney Jimmy Fairchild said Monday.

When we're talking about systemic corruption, we have to remember that it rarely, if ever, happens on a partisan basis. The idea that one party has a "culture of corruption" is ludicrous. Power corrupts, and regardless of current status, both parties wield power in Washington. The corruption will have followed both in proportion to their power. Expect to see enough takedowns to thoroughly embarrass everyone.

But regardless, as I wrote earlier, let the chips fall where they may. The DoJ has done a good job thus far at keeping it professional and balanced, and I trust them to continue to do so. And for a great round-up of reaction, check out Michelle Malkin, who says the same thing. If you love your country, you have to demand prosecution of the corrupt, even if they share your political viewpoints.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 3, 2006 8:08 PM

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