Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore




The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail
Nonprofit Group Linked to Lawmaker Was Funded Mostly by Clients of Lobbyist


By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 31, 2005; A01


The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.

Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

A spokesman for DeLay, who is fighting in a Texas state court unrelated charges of illegal fundraising, denied that the contributions influenced the former House majority leader's political activities. The Russian energy executives who worked with Abramoff denied yesterday knowing anything about the million-dollar London transaction described in tax documents.

Whatever the real motive for the contribution of $1 million -- a sum not prohibited by law but extraordinary for a small, nonprofit group -- the steady stream of corporate payments detailed on the donor list makes it clear that Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.

Records and interviews also illuminate the mixture of influence and illusion that surrounded the U.S. Family Network. Despite the group's avowed purpose, records show it did little to promote conservative ideas through grass-roots advocacy. The money it raised came from businesses with no demonstrated interest in the conservative "moral fitness" agenda that was the group's professed aim.

In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, for example, half a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners -- with Abramoff's help -- solicited and received DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.

A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.

The records, other documents and interviews call into question the very purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay's activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September.

After the group was formed in 1996, its director told the Internal Revenue Service that its goal was to advocate policies favorable for "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." DeLay, in a 1999 fundraising letter, called the group "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control" by mobilizing grass-roots citizen support.

But the records show that the tiny U.S. Family Network, which never had more than one full-time staff member, spent comparatively little money on public advocacy or education projects. Although established as a nonprofit organization, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group.

There is no evidence DeLay received a direct financial benefit, but Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, and paid her a salary of at least $3,200 each month for three of the years the group existed. Richard Cullen, DeLay's attorney, has said that the pay was compensation for lists Christine DeLay supplied to Buckham of lawmakers' favorite charities, and that it was appropriate under House rules and election law.

Some of the U.S. Family Network's revenue was used to pay for radio ads attacking vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in 1999; other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."

DeLay made his own fundraising telephone pitches from the townhouse's second-floor master suite every few weeks, according to two former associates. Other rooms in the townhouse were used by Alexander Strategy Group, Buckham's newly formed lobbying firm, and Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), DeLay's leadership committee.

They paid modest rent to the U.S. Family Network, which occupied a single small room in the back.

'Red Flags' on Tax Returns

Nine months before the June 25, 1998, payment of $1 million by the London law firm James & Sarch Co., as recorded in the tax forms, Buckham and DeLay were the dinner guests in Moscow of Marina Nevskaya and Alexander Koulakovsky of the oil firm Naftasib, which in promotional literature counted as its principal clients the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior.

Buckham, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, had worked for DeLay since 1995, after serving in other congressional offices and then as executive director of the Republican Study Committee, a group of fiscally conservative House members.

Their other dining companions were Abramoff and Washington lawyer Julius "Jay" Kaplan, whose lobbying firms collected $440,000 in 1997 and 1998 from an obscure Bahamian firm that helped organize and indirectly pay for the DeLay trip, in conjunction with the Russians. In disclosure forms, the stated purpose of the lobbying was to promote the policies of the Russian government.

Kaplan and British lawyer David Sarch had worked together previously. (Sarch died a month before the $1 million was paid.) Buckham's trip with DeLay was his second to Moscow that year for meetings with Nevskaya and Koulakovsky; on the earlier one, the DeLay aide attracted media attention by returning through Paris aboard the Concorde, a $5,500 flight.

Former Abramoff associates and documents in the hands of federal prosecutors state that Nevskaya and Koulakovsky sought Abramoff's help at the time in securing various favors from the U.S. government, including congressional earmarks or federal grants for their modular-home construction firm near Moscow and the construction of a fossil-fuel plant in Israel. None appears to have been obtained by their firm.

Former DeLay employees say Koulakovsky and Nevskaya met with him on multiple occasions. The Russians also frequently used Abramoff's skyboxes at local sports stadiums -- as did Kaplan, according to sources and a 2001 e-mail Abramoff wrote to another client.

Three sources familiar with Abramoff's activities on their behalf say that the two Russians -- who knew the head of the Russian energy giant Gazprom and had invested heavily in that firm -- partly wanted just to be seen with a prominent American politician as a way of bolstering their credibility with the Russian government and their safety on Moscow's streets. The Russian oil and gas business at the time had a Wild West character, and its executives worried about extortion and kidnapping threats. The anxieties of Nevskaya and Koulakovsky were not hidden; like many other business people, they traveled in Moscow with guards armed with machine guns.

During the DeLays' visit on Aug. 5 to 11, 1997, the congressman met with Nevskaya and was escorted around Moscow by Koulakovsky, Naftasib's general manager. DeLay told the House clerk that the trip's sponsor was the National Center for Public Policy Research, but multiple sources told The Post that his expenses were indirectly reimbursed by the Russian-connected Bahamian company.

DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the principal reason for his Moscow trip was "to meet with religious leaders there." Nevskaya, in a letter this spring, said Naftasib's involvement in such trips was meant "to foster better understanding between our country and the United States" and denied that the firm was seeking protection through its U.S. contacts.

Nevskaya added in an e-mail yesterday that Naftasib and its officials were not representing the ministries of defense and interior or any other government agencies "in connection with meetings or other lobbying activities in Washington D.C. or Moscow."

A former Abramoff associate said the two executives "wanted to contribute to DeLay" and clearly had the resources to do it. At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow "what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning" and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays "would go to jail and you would go to jail."

The tax form states that the $1 million came by check on June 25, 1998, from "Nations Corp, James & Sarch co." The Washington Post checked with the listed executives of Texas and Florida firms that have names similar to Nations Corp, and they said they had no connection to any such payment.

James & Sarch Co. was dissolved in May 2000, but two former partners said they recalled hearing the names of the Russians at their office. Asked if the firm represented them, former partner Philip McGuirk at first said "it may ring a bell," but later he faxed a statement that he could say no more because confidentiality practices prevent him "from disclosing any information regarding the affairs of a client (or former client)."

Nevskaya said in the e-mail yesterday, however, that "neither Naftasib nor the principals you mentioned have ever been represented by a London law firm that you name as James & Sarch Co." She also said that Naftasib and its principals did not pay $1 million to the firm, and denied knowing about the transaction.

Two former Buckham associates said that he told them years ago not only that the $1 million donation was solicited from Russian oil and gas executives, but also that the initial plan was for the donation to be made via a delivery of cash to be picked up at a Washington area airport.

One of the former associates, a Frederick, Md., pastor named Christopher Geeslin who served as the U.S. Family Network's director or president from 1998 to 2001, said Buckham further told him in 1999 that the payment was meant to influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there.

"Ed told me, 'This is the way things work in Washington,' " Geeslin said. "He said the Russians wanted to give the money first in cash." Buckham, he said, orchestrated all the group's fundraising and spending and rarely informed the board about the details. Buckham and his attorney, Laura Miller, did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this article.

The IMF funding legislation was a contentious issue in 1998. The Russian stock market fell steeply in April and May, and the government in Moscow announced on June 18 -- just a week before the $1 million check was sent by the London law firm -- that it needed $10 billion to $15 billion in new international loans.

House Republican leaders had expressed opposition through that spring to giving the IMF the money it could use for new bailouts, decrying what they described as previous destabilizing loans to other countries. The IMF and its Western funders, meanwhile, were pressing Moscow, as a condition of any loan, to increase taxes on major domestic oil companies such as Gazprom, which had earlier defaulted on billions of dollars in tax payments.

On Aug. 18, 1998, the Russian government devalued the ruble and defaulted on its treasury bills. But DeLay, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" on Aug. 30 of that year, criticized the IMF financing bill, calling the replenishment of its funds "unfortunate" because the IMF was wrongly insisting on a Russian tax increase. "They are trying to force Russia to raise taxes at a time when they ought to be cutting taxes in order to get a loan from the IMF. That's just outrageous," DeLay said.

In the end, the Russian legislature refused to raise taxes, the IMF agreed to lend the money anyway, and DeLay voted on Sept. 17, 1998, for a foreign aid bill containing new funds to replenish the IMF account. DeLay's spokesman said the lawmaker "makes decisions and sets legislative priorities based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country." He added: "Mr. DeLay has very firm beliefs, and he fights very hard for them."

Kaplan did not respond to repeated messages, and through a spokesman for lawyer Abbe Lowell, Abramoff declined to comment.

No legal bar exists to a $1 million donation by a foreign entity to a group such as the U.S. Family Network, according to Marcus Owens, a Washington lawyer who directed the IRS's office of tax-exempt organizations from 1990 to 2000 and who reviewed, at The Post's request, the tax returns filed by the U.S. Family Network.

But "a million dollars is a staggering amount of money to come from a foreign source" because such a donor would not be entitled to claim the tax deduction allowed for U.S. citizens, Owens said. "Giving large donations to an organization whose purposes are as ambiguous as these . . . is extraordinary. I haven't seen that before. It suggests something else is going on.

"There are any number of red flags on these returns."

Hailing Indian Tribe's Hiring of Lobbyists

Buckham and Tony Rudy were the first DeLay staff members to visit the Choctaw Reservation near Meridian, Miss., where the tribe built a 500-room hotel and a 90,000-square-foot gambling casino. Their trip from March 25 to 27, 1997, cost the Choctaws $3,000, according to statements filed with the House clerk.

DeLay, his wife and Susan Hirschman -- Buckham's successor in 1998 as chief of staff -- were the next to go. Their trip from July 31 to Aug. 2, 1998, was described on House disclosure forms as a "site review and reservation tour for charitable event," and the forms said it cost the Choctaws $6,935.

Buckham, who was then a lobbyist, arranged DeLay's trip, which included a visit to the tribe's golf course to assess it as a possible location for the lawmaker's annual charity tournament, according to a tribal source. Abramoff told the tribe he could not accompany DeLay because of a prior commitment, the source said.

One day after the DeLays departed for Washington, the U.S. Family Network registered an initial $150,000 payment made by the Choctaws, according to its tax return. The tribe made additional payments to the group totaling $100,000 on "various" dates the following year, the returns state. The Choctaws separately paid Abramoff $4.5 million for his lobbying work on their behalf in 1998 and 1999. Abramoff and his wife contributed $22,000 to DeLay's political campaigns from 1997 to 2000, according to public records.

A former Abramoff associate who is aware of the payments, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his clients, said the tribe made contributions to entities associated with DeLay because DeLay was crucial to the tribe's continuing fight against legislation to allow the taxation of Indians' gambling revenue.

An attorney for the tribe, Bryant Rogers, said the funds were meant not only to "get the message out" about the adverse tax law proposals but also to finance a campaign by Buckham's group within "the conservative base" against legislation to strip tribes of their control over Indian adoptions. "This was a group connected to the right-wing Christian movement," Rogers said. "This is Ed Buckham's connection."

In March 1999, after the tribe had paid a substantial sum directly to the U.S. Family Network, Buckham expressed his general gratitude to Abramoff in an e-mail. "I really appreciate you going to bat for us. Remember it is the first bit of money that is always the hardest, but means the most," Buckham said, according to a copy. He added: "Pray for God's wisdom. I really believe this is supposed to be what we are doing to save our team."

During this period, a fundraising letter on the U.S. Family Network stationery was sent to residents of Alabama, announcing a petition drive to promote a cause of interest to Abramoff's Indian gambling clients in Mississippi and Louisiana, including the Choctaw casino that drew many customers from Alabama: the blocking of a rival casino proposed by the Poarch Creek Indians on their land in Alabama.

"The American family is under attack from all sides: crime, drugs, pornography, and one of the least talked about but equally as destructive -- gambling," said the group's letter, which was signed by then-Rep. Bob Riley (R), now the Alabama governor. "We need your help today . . . to prevent the Poarch Creek Indians from building casinos in Alabama."

Asked about the letter, Rogers said "none of us have seen" it and "the tribe's contributions have nothing to do with it." A spokesman for Riley said that he could not recall the circumstances behind the letter, but that he has long opposed any expansion of gambling in Alabama.

DeLay, meanwhile, saluted Choctaw chief Philip Martin in the Congressional Record on Jan. 3, 2001, citing "all he has done to further the cause of freedom." DeLay also attached to his remarks an editorial that hailed the tribe's gambling income and its "hiring [of] quality lobbyists."

Throughout this period, the U.S. Family Network was paying a monthly fee of at least $10,000 to Buckham and Alexander Strategy Group for general "consulting," according to a former Buckham associate and a copy of the contract. While DeLay's wife drew a monthly salary from the lobbying firm, she did not work at its offices in the townhouse on Capitol Hill, according to former Buckham associates.

Neither the House nor the Federal Election Commission bars the payment of corporate funds to spouses through consulting firms or political action committees, but the spouses must perform real work for reasonable wages.

"Anytime you [as a congressman] hire your child or spouse, it raises questions as to whether this is a throwback to the time when people used campaigns and government jobs to enrich their families," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group, and a former general counsel of the FEC.

Research editor Lucy Shackelford; researchers Alice Crites, Madonna Lebling, Karl Evanzz and Meg Smith; and research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

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Holidays, Lobbyists & Murder

By Richard Fricker
December 23, 2005


As the wags of Washington make their Christmas rounds and chardonnay corks litter the streets like cherry blossoms, there is a chill in the holiday spirit for friends and associates of Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff – since some of them are facing a New Year that may include testimony in a murder and corruption case in Florida.

While Abramoff's influence-buying schemes are likely to entangle prominent politicians in bribery cases in Washington, the Fort Lauderdale murder-corruption case surrounding the SunCruz casino stands out as possibly the biggest embarrassment for the Republican power structure, since it may feature appearances by Abramoff and his onetime aide Michael Scanlon.

Fort Lauderdale homicide detectives are interested in questioning Abramoff about the 2001 murder of SunCruz casino owner Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis. Prosecutor Brian Cavanaugh told me he most certainly “will be spending time with Mr. Scanlon.”

Boulis was gunned down in his car on Feb. 6, 2001, amid a feud with an Abramoff business group that had purchased Boulis’s SunCruz casino cruise line in 2000. On Sept. 27, 2005, Fort Lauderdale police charged three men, including reputed Gambino crime family bookkeeper Anthony Moscatiello, with Boulis’s murder.

As part of the murder probe, police are investigating payments that SunCruz made to Moscatiello, his daughter and Anthony Ferrari, another defendant in the Boulis murder case. Moscatiello and Ferrari allegedly collaborated with a third man, James Fiorillo, in the slaying.

Abramoff Indictment

The SunCruz deal also led to the August 2005 indictment of Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud over a $60 million loan for buying the casino company in 2000. Prosecutors allege that Abramoff and Kidan made a phony $23 million wire transfer as a fake down payment.

In pursuing the casino deal, the Abramoff-Kidan group got help, too, from then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Rep. Robert W. Ney, R-Ohio, the Washington Post reported. Abramoff impressed one lender by putting him together with DeLay in Abramoff’s skybox at FedEx Field during a football game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.

Ney placed comments in the Congressional Record criticizing Boulis and later praising the new Abramoff-Kidan ownership team. [Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2005]

After the SunCruz sale, when tensions boiled over, Boulis and Kidan got into a fistfight. Kidan claimed that Boulis threatened his life. Two months later, however, Boulis was the one who was shot to death when a car pulled up next to him and a gunman opened fire. Lawyers for Abramoff and Kidan say their clients know nothing about the murder.

Police, however, are investigating financial ties between the Abramoff-Kidan group and Moscatiello and Ferrari.

In a 2001 civil case, Kidan testified that he had paid $145,000 to Moscatiello and his daughter, Jennifer, for catering and other services, although court records show no evidence that quantities of food or drink were provided. SunCruz also paid Ferrari’s company, Moon Over Miami, $95,000 for surveillance services.

Kidan told the Miami Herald that the payments had no connection to the Boulis murder. “If I’m going to pay to have Gus killed, am I going to be writing checks to the killers?” Kidan asked. “I don’t think so. Why would I leave a paper trail?”

Kidan also said he was ignorant of Moscatiello’s past. In 1983, Moscatiello was indicted on heroin-trafficking charges along with Gene Gotti, brother of Gambino crime boss John Gotti. Though Gene Gotti and others were convicted, the charges against Moscatiello – identified by federal authorities as a former Gambino bookkeeper – were dropped.

Abramoff’s influence reached into George W. Bush’s White House, too, where chief procurement officer David H. Safavian resigned in September and then was arrested on charges of lying to authorities and obstructing a criminal investigation into Abramoff’s lobbying activities.

Rep. Ney and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed were among influential Republicans who joined Safavian and Abramoff on an infamous golf trip to Scotland in 2002. Safavian is a former lobbying partner of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, another pillar of right-wing politics in Washington and another longtime Abramoff friend. [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2005]

Abramoff also has boasted of his influence with Bush’s top political adviser Karl Rove. [For more background on Abramoff, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Rotten Are These Guys?"]

Plea Bargains

The latest wrinkle in this melodrama appears to be the race to the courthouse between Abramoff and his casino co-owner Kidan, who is in the soup with Abramoff for the SunCruz money-laundering and wire-fraud charges. This is a classic race in that he who cuts the first deal wins.

If Kidan can offer up Abramoff and a few congressmen before Abramoff can rat out his congressional minions before Kidan inks a deal, he wins. Or, in the alternative, if they can collectively offer up a bevy of congressmen, Capitol Hill aides and fat-cat contributors, then they both can minimize possible jail time.

The New York Times reported on Dec. 22 that Abramoff was close to completing a plea agreement in the Florida fraud case, setting the stage for him becoming a witness in a broad federal corruption investigation. One participant in the case said a deal could be completed by next week. [NYT, Dec. 22, 2005]

In the meantime, the Fort Lauderdale police and prosecutor Cavanaugh need only wait. If Scanlon, Abramoff and Kidan all agree to “cooperate” with the government in plea-bargaining on white-collar crimes, Cavanaugh will still get his shot at the wheeler-dealers because murder trumps fraud in the prosecutorial world.

Investigators have tried to interview Abramoff about the Boulis case, but those efforts were blocked by his attorneys who refused to volunteer Abramoff's testimony. Cavanaugh has declined to subpoena Abramoff because it might muddy the legal waters should it be decided the GOP fundraiser had some direct knowledge of the Boulis slaying.

Kidan, meanwhile, is rumored to be ready to make his own plea deal and start naming names of politicos who gave, took, hustled funds. Should that happen Congressman Ney can expect more questions about his insertion of comments in the Congressional Record criticizing Boulis for his management of SunCruz when Abramoff and Kidan were trying to buy the company.

The Boulis murder trial is set for mid-January, but a postponement is likely as both sides take depositions of witnesses.

Meanwhile, DeLay awaits trial on alleged laundering of corporate campaign funds into Texas political races that were central to DeLay's efforts to redistrict Texas and give Republicans additional seats in the U.S. Congress.

DeLay’s problems may just be beginning as new revelations show he received special favors including use of private jets and money from sources connected to other bribery allegations.

All in all, the legal entanglements of Abramoff and his friends may make for something less than a very Happy New Year.

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King of the Hill Tom DeLay lived like one, too

Larry Margasak and Sharon Theimer, Associated Press
December 21, 2005


As Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, became a king of campaign fundraising, he lived like one too.

Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often transported by corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests.

Public documents reviewed by the Associated Press tell the story: at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts; 100 flights aboard company planes; 200 hotel stays; 500 restaurant meals, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.

The meals and trips for DeLay and his associates were paid with donations collected by the campaign committees, political action committees and children's charity he created during his rise to the congressional leadership. His lawyer says the expenses are simply part of DeLay's effort to raise money from Republicans and to spread the GOP message.

Since he became majority whip in 1995, DeLay has raised at least $35 million for his campaign, PACs, foundation and legal defense fund. He hasn't faced a serious reelection threat in recent years, giving him more leeway than candidates in close races to spend campaign money.

The AP's review found that DeLay's various organizations spent at least $1 million over the past six years on hotels, restaurants, golf resorts and corporate jet flights for their boss and his associates.

While it's illegal for a member of Congress to tap political donations for a family vacation, it is legal if the stated purpose is raising more money or talking politics.

Until his recent indictment in Texas on political money laundering charges, DeLay was the second most powerful member in the House and as such, could command an audience of donors wherever he went.

DeLay attorney Don McGahn declined to identify which trips listed in the reports were taken by DeLay and which by his associates. But he said all the travel was legal and not done for DeLay's benefit. "Raising political money costs money," he said.

Special interests routinely make donations and attend fundraisers to gain access to government decisionmakers. And while other congressional leaders accepted trips and used political money to cover travel, none compares with DeLay:

• Campaign and PAC reports filed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., show several payments to companies for travel but there were few visits to golf courses, and those were mostly close to home.

• Reports from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., show expenses at resorts in South Carolina, New Mexico and Puerto Rico. But he too holds most events closer to home, like Las Vegas casinos and Lake Tahoe resorts.

• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has held events at ritzy hotels but had few corporate flights or visits to resorts, her reports show.

• House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., comes closest to rivaling DeLay's travels, reporting fundraisers at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Florida, the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Hawaii, the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Waterfall Resort in Alaska. His groups also paid for dozens of corporate jet flights and restaurant meals.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a Republican author of legislation designed to overhaul campaign financing, said of DeLay's record, "It's excessive, it's obscene, it distorts someone's ability to have good judgment.

A longtime DeLay critic, he added, "It's an abuse of campaign finance law and of our ethics law. It's harmful to Congress in general and the Republican Party in particular."

DeLay's travels with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff are now under criminal investigation. But those trips were paid by special interests directly under the banner of congressional fact-finding.

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Michael Scanlon fingers Jack Abramoff in D.C. bribery schemes


Jack Abramoff is making a deal with prosecutors to finger corrupt Republicans


Corrupt Republican sweats

Lobbyist Is Said to Discuss Plea and Testimony

By ANNE E. KORNBLUT

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 - Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under criminal investigation, has been discussing with prosecutors a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony against former political and business associates, people with detailed knowledge of the case say.

Mr. Abramoff is believed to have extensive knowledge of what prosecutors suspect is a wider pattern of corruption among lawmakers and Congressional staff members. One participant in the case who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations described him as a "unique resource."

Other people involved in the case or who have been officially briefed on it said the talks had reached a tense phase, with each side mindful of the date Jan. 9, when Mr. Abramoff is scheduled to stand trial in Miami in a separate prosecution.

What began as a limited inquiry into $82 million of Indian casino lobbying by Mr. Abramoff and his closest partner, Michael Scanlon, has broadened into a far-reaching corruption investigation of mainly Republican lawmakers and aides suspected of accepting favors in exchange for legislative work.

Prominent party officials, including the former House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, are under scrutiny involving trips and other gifts from Mr. Abramoff and his clients. The case has shaken the Republican establishment, with the threat of testimony from Mr. Abramoff, once a ubiquitous and well-connected Republican star, sowing anxiety throughout the party ranks.

At issue is the complicated structure of the case against Mr. Abramoff. In August, he was indicted by federal prosecutors in Miami on charges of fraud stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats in 2000. He pleaded not guilty in that case, and his lawyers say they are preparing him to stand trial. Mr. Abramoff has also been under investigation here in connection with his lobbying. No charges have been brought against him in that inquiry. The existence of what amounts to two separate but overlapping investigations partly explains why the plea negotiations for Mr. Abramoff have been so protracted and tough, said people with inside knowledge of the case.

With the trial in Miami fast approaching, and coming on the heels of plea agreements from Mr. Scanlon and another close associate of Mr. Abramoff, pressure has mounted to reach his own agreement. Mr. Abramoff has also told associates that he is broke, making the prospect of an extended jury trial even less appealing.

Mr. Abramoff's lead defense lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell, said he would not comment.

Several people involved in various aspects of the case agreed to be interviewed as long as their names and affiliations were not made public. Justice Department officials are prohibited from discussing continuing cases as a matter of course. A spokesman for the department, Bryan Sierra, declined to comment.

Although the Miami case is ostensibly separate from the Washington inquiry, the overlapping elements include occasions when Mr. Abramoff flexed his political muscle to enhance his business deal in Florida.

While he and a partner, Adam Kidan, were angling to buy the SunCruz boat fleet in 2000, Mr. Abramoff had Mr. Scanlon persuade Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, to insert negative comments about a business rival of Mr. Abramoff into The Congressional Record, under a scheme outlined in documents filed in Mr. Scanlon's criminal case.

The rival, Konstantinos Boulis, was murdered a short time later in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a twist that heightened the profile of the Miami case.

Florida prosecutors are also investigating corruption in that case, focusing on Mr. Ney and his chief of staff at the time, Neil Volz, according to people involved in the case. Mr. Volz reportedly agreed to put negative remarks about Mr. Boulis in The Congressional Record, even though Mr. Ney had no obvious reason to comment on Mr. Boulis.

Mr. Volz went on to work for Mr. Abramoff as a lobbyist.

Mr. Ney has said he was tricked by Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Abramoff into participating, and no charges have been brought against him.

In his financial paperwork in the Miami deal, Mr. Abramoff listed Tony C. Rudy, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. DeLay at the time, as a reference.

He also listed Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, who has since defended the decision to support the lobbyist.

Lawyers for Mr. Volz, Mr. Ney and Mr. Rudy did not return calls for comment. A lawyer for Mr. DeLay declined to comment, but spokesmen for Mr. DeLay have repeatedly said he had done nothing improper.

Such ties are only at the periphery of the investigations, according to people briefed on the case. Mr. Scanlon, who worked on public affairs for the SunCruz casinos and is familiar with the inner workings of many of Mr. Abramoff's deals, is cooperating in the Miami case as well as in Washington, his lawyer has said.

Prosecutors are also looking at how some former Congressional staff members landed their lucrative lobbying positions and at the role the wives of several lobbyists and lawmakers may have had in any influence scheme, a piece of the puzzle that investigators have begun referring to privately as the "wives' club."

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Big on money, short on memory

Jonathan Chait
December 18, 2005


DURING THE HEIGHT of his power, nobody in Washington had any doubts about super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's partisan loyalties. Now that Abramoff is being accused of bilking Indian tribes, misappropriating funds, bribing members of Congress and generally being held up as a symbol of Washington corruption, memories on the GOP side are growing hazier.

As President Bush told Fox News last week, "Abramoff — I'm not, frankly, all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill, but it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties." Not much of a Republican at all, you see. Really a bipartisan figure. Sort of the David Broder of corruption.

May I refresh the presidential memory?

Abramoff came into politics by way of the campus-based, student-run College Republicans, where he served with future party big shots such as Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist. While running the College Republicans, he said: "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently."

The apotheosis of this mentality was something Republicans called the "K Street Project." The idea was that, once Republicans had won control of Congress in 1994, they would not permit the business lobbies centered on K Street in Washington to split their loyalties between the two parties, as they had always done. Henceforth they had to employ, and donate funds to, Republicans, mostly if not exclusively.

Abramoff was a key figure in this project. "It was my role to push the Republicans on K Street to be more helpful to the conservative movement," Abramoff recalled to Michael Crowley in a recent New York Times Magazine profile. Republicans concurred at the time.

"He is someone on our side," Tom DeLay's chief of staff, Ed Buckham, explained to National Journal magazine in 1995. "He has access to DeLay." DeLay once called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends." Abramoff hired multiple DeLay staffers as lobbyists, and his assistant later went to work for Karl Rove.

Abramoff epitomized the new breed of partisan lobbyist who advanced the GOP cause even as he enriched himself. As Norquist enthused at the time: "What the Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs. Then this becomes a different town." By this Norquist, who continued to work with Abramoff, meant that Republicans would gain an insurmountable financial advantage by destroying the old bipartisan culture. (Indeed, Norquist once compared bipartisanship to date rape.)

It's true, as Bush noted, that Abramoff gave money to some Democrats — about a third of his donations. But giving some money to the other side does not make you bipartisan. Anybody who's anybody in Washington, even the most committed partisans, find it useful to recruit members of the other party to advance their goals from time to time.

Does this mean that Republicans are inherently more corrupt than Democrats? Of course not. Corruption tempts right and left alike. The difference is that Republicans gained a near monopoly on power, and hence a near monopoly on opportunities for graft. Indeed, they've spent much of the last decade reveling in their power, gloating openly that anybody who wanted to do business in town had to deal with them. "If you want to play in our revolution," DeLay famously declared, "you have to live by our rules."

They openly threatened, and carried out, retaliation against lobbies that dared to stray. In 2003, the Washington Post reported that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley offered to ease up on his investigation of the mutual fund industry if the industry replaced its top lobbyist, a Democrat, with a Republican. The next year, when the motion picture industry resisted entreaties that it hire a Republican as its top lobbyist, Norquist threatened that the industry's "ability to work with the House and Senate is greatly reduced." Sure enough, the motion picture industry was left out of the 2004 corporate tax package, which was otherwise an indiscriminate smorgasbord of favors to every lobbyist in town.

Republicans were happy to broadcast their close ties to lobbyists back when they brought little scrutiny and lots of money. Now that Abramoff and other lobbyists are suddenly a political liability, Republicans are retroactively happy to share power with the other side. If they'd been a bit less greedy then, they'd be in a bit less trouble now.

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Bush calls DeLay innocent, stands by Cheney and Rove

- Jim VandeHei, Washington Post
Thursday, December 15, 2005


Washington -- President Bush said Wednesday that he is confident that former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is innocent of money-laundering charges, and he offered strong support for several top Republicans who have been battered by investigations or by rumors of fading clout inside the White House.

In an interview with Fox News, Bush said he hopes DeLay, a fellow Texas Republican, will be cleared of charges that he illegally steered corporate money into campaigns for the Texas Legislature and will reclaim his powerful leadership position in Congress.

"I hope that he will, 'cause I like him, and plus, when he's over there, we get our votes through the House," Bush told Fox News' Brit Hume.

DeLay was forced to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in the fundraising case, and he is seeking a quick trial in hopes of returning to power early next year.

Bush has refused to speak about the CIA leak investigation or the impending trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former vice presidential chief of staff who was indicted in the case. But he said he believes that DeLay is not guilty -- weeks before his trial is expected to begin. It is highly unusual for a president to express an opinion about a pending legal case.

In the wide-ranging interview, Bush defended the Republican Party against charges of pervasive unethical behavior after the resignation of Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Del Mar (San Diego County), for taking bribes, and the unfolding money-for-favors scandal centered on former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"Well, first of all, I feel Duke Cunningham was wrong and should be punished for what he did," Bush said. "And I think that anybody who does what he did should be punished, Republican or Democrat. Secondly, the Abramoff -- I'm not, frankly, all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill, but it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties."

According to campaign finance reports, Abramoff and his clients contributed substantially more money to Republicans than to Democrats.

Bush also defended three of the most powerful men in the White House, all of whom have been the subject of speculation that they are losing clout with the president: Vice President Dick Cheney, senior adviser Karl Rove and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Bush said his relationship with Cheney is better than ever, despite Libby's recent indictment and criticism of the Iraq and terrorism policies that were championed by the vice president.

"The truth of the matter is that our relationship hasn't changed hardly at all," Bush said. "I'd say the relationship -- it's only gotten better. We didn't know each other that well when we first came to Washington, D.C., and my respect for him has grown immensely."

The same goes for Rove, Bush said. Rove remains under investigation in the CIA leak case, and some aides have complained that he lied to the president and White House spokesman Scott McClellan about his role.

"We're still as close as we've ever been," Bush said. "You know, when we look back at the presidency and my time in politics, no question that Karl had a lot to do with me getting here, and I value his friendship. We're very close."

Bush dismissed rumors that Rumsfeld will leave his post early next year. Asked if Rumsfeld will stay through the second term, Bush said: "Well, end of my term is a long time, but I tell you, he's done a heck of a good job, and I have no intention of changing him."


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DeLay case prosecutor seeks files in California

By Suzanne Gamboa
Associated Press
Published December 14, 2005


WASHINGTON -- A Texas prosecutor has issued subpoenas for bank records and other information of a defense contractor involved in the bribery case of a California congressman as part of the investigation of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

District Atty. Ronnie Earle issued subpoenas Monday for California businessmen Brent Wilkes and Max Gelwix, and for records of Perfect Wave Technologies LLC, Wilkes Corp. and ADCS Inc.

Earle is looking at a contribution to a fundraising committee at the center of the investigation that led to DeLay's indictment on money-laundering charges.

Perfect Wave contributed $15,000 on Sept. 20, 2002, to Texans for a Republican Majority, a fundraising committee founded by DeLay (R-Texas).

Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned in late November after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to companies.

On Tuesday, Earle subpoenaed written testimony that DeLay and two others gave in a 1994 lawsuit brought by DeLay's former pest control business partner. Ex-partner Robert Blankenship alleged in the suit that he was unjustly cut out of the business by DeLay and another man. The lawsuit ended in a confidential settlement in 1995.

DeLay gave differing stories about whether he was an officer of Albo Pest Control Co. during his deposition and when he filed a financial disclosure document with the House.

"He can subpoena all he wants. There is nothing there," said DeLay's attorney Dick DeGuerin. "I think he's trying to dig himself out of a hole. We're not concerned about it."

The subpoenas also seek correspondence and internal accounting records.

Wilkes, head of Wilkes Corp., is one of four unnamed co-conspirators listed in Cunningham's plea agreement, Wilkes' attorney, Michael Lipman of San Diego, has said. Lipman did not return calls for comment.

Defense contractor ADCS and Perfect Wave Technologies are subsidiaries of Wilkes Corp.

Gelwix was listed in federal campaign records last year as president and CEO of Perfect Wave Technologies. A message left at his office was not immediately returned.

Wilkes' company also hired Alexander Strategies, a consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife, Christine. His private jet company, Group W Transportation, provided flights to DeLay three times. DeLay reimbursed Group W as required, records show.

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A Republican Tom DeLay Problem

Published: December 10, 2005

It may be dawning on House Republicans that Representative Tom DeLay's time as their majority leader is truly over, despite the bold Texan's resolve to regain his grip on Congress. Whatever the outcome of his trial on felony charges of laundering political money, Mr. DeLay's root problem has been laid bare. It is outsized hubris, which is ever clearer to the public and ever more a G.O.P. millstone.

The question for the Republicans - many of them entangled in Mr. DeLay's bountiful network of fund-raising riches - is how fast they can learn from all this. When, if ever, will they enact believable reforms of Congress's big-money wallow?

Mr. DeLay's downfall came by his own hand, with a successful scheme to bankroll Texas election victories so a Statehouse majority would gerrymander five more G.O.P. seats for him in Congress. The partisan map was faulted as illegal by civil rights staff members at the Justice Department, but they were overruled by Republican appointees. This is political hubris on a national scale, directed at the heart of democracy.

Mr. DeLay's brazenness was clear long before his Texas indictment, as he ignored the normal post-census redistricting schedule and bulldozed the gerrymandering through the Statehouse. His money-raising machine, dubbed DeLay Inc. by his court of donors and lobbyists in Washington, funneled funds through Austin in ways that Mr. DeLay insists will eventually be judged legal. Regardless of what happens in court, the operation was a political scandal.

Mr. DeLay punctuated one day in court this week with another signature fund-raiser, packed with favor-seeking donors, and a guest appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney. Any sense of scandal seemed checked at the door. But the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, propped up in power by the DeLay machine, cannot afford to ignore reality with such impunity. He has every reason, including self-survival, to embrace long-resisted ethics reforms. Meanwhile, Republicans had better begin searching for fresh faces outside the encrusted inner circle of power before their majority fades in tandem with Mr. DeLay.

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Short On Guests, DeLay Fundraiser Lets In Protestors

Cheney yesterday skipped the White House Christmas party to headline a fundraiser for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). Top ticket prices were $4,200, where donors could attend a VIP reception, take photographs with Cheney, and receive recognition. For $2,100, attendees could rub elbows and take photos with DeLay. Regular tickets (the lowest cost for admission) were $500.



DeLay (with an approval rating at 37% and a money laundering charge still standing) and Cheney (at 19%) weren’t enough of a draw to attract high-dollar donors.

While 250 people allegedly attended the event, evidently not everyone had to pay full ticket price. Protestor Diane Wilson of Code Pink said she paid only $50:

I guess they needed people inside. You can get in pretty cheap. I didn’t want to give too much.

When DeLay is relying on feminist, anti-war protestors to fill his campaign coffers, you know his days are numbered.

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DeLay money-laundering charges upheld
Conspiracy charges tossed, but ex-GOP leader can't resume House post


The Associated Press
Updated: 10:00 p.m. ET Dec. 5, 2005


AUSTIN, Texas - A judge dismissed a conspiracy charge Monday against Rep. Tom DeLay but refused to throw out far more serious allegations of money-laundering, dashing the congressman’s hopes for now of reclaiming his post as House majority leader.

Texas Judge Pat Priest, who is presiding over the case against the Republican, issued the ruling after a hearing late last month in which DeLay’s attorney argued that the indictment was fatally flawed.

When he was indicted in September, DeLay was required under House rules to relinquish the leadership post he had held since 2003. While Monday’s ruling was a partial victory for DeLay, he cannot reclaim his post because he remains under indictment.

The ruling means the case will move toward a trial next year, though other defense objections to the indictments remain to be heard by the judge.

DeLay declined to speak with reporters Monday evening as he entered a campaign fundraiser with Vice President Dick Cheney at a Houston hotel.

But DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the court’s decision “underscores just how baseless and politically motivated the charges were.”

DeLay “is very encouraged by the swift progress of the legal proceedings and looks forward to his eventual and absolute exoneration based on the facts and the law,” Madden said.

No decision whether to appeal
In a written statement, Earle’s office said prosecutors were studying the ruling and had made no decision about whether to appeal. Prosecutors have 15 days to challenge the decision.

DeLay, 58, and two GOP fundraisers, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, are accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to 2002 Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns, but it can be used for administrative purposes.

In asking that the case be thrown out, DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin argued that one of the charges — conspiracy to violate the Texas election code — did not even take effect until September 2003, a year after the alleged offenses occurred.

Prosecutors, however, said the crime of conspiracy was already on the books, and could be applied to the election code even though such uses were not explicitly in state law at the time.

The judge was unpersuaded by that argument, and dismissed the conspiracy charge. But the judge upheld charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Those charges involve an alleged attempt by DeLay to conceal the source of the campaign contributions by funneling the money through his own political action committee and then an arm of the Republican National Committee.

In trying to have those charges thrown out, the defense argued that the Texas money laundering law does not apply to funds in the form of a check, just coins or paper money. But the judge said that checks “are clearly funds and can be the subject of money laundering.”

The defense attorneys also argued that the definition of money laundering in Texas involves the transfer of criminal proceeds. Because the money in this case was not illegal to begin with, they argued, money laundering never occurred.

But the judge rejected that argument, saying the money became suspect when “it began to be held with the prohibited intent.”


‘Dirty money’
He said if prosecutors can prove that DeLay and his associates obtained the corporate donations “with the express intent of converting those funds to the use of individual candidates,” or that they converted money legally collected by sending it to the Republican National Committee and asking for the same amount to be sent back to Texas candidates, “then they will have established that money was laundered.”

“The money would have become ‘dirty money’ at the point that it began to be held with the prohibited intent,” Priest wrote.

Conspiracy to violate the election code carries up to two years in prison. Money laundering is punishable by five years to life. Conspiracy to commit money laundering carries two years.

In response to the ruling, Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told NBC News, “Republicans’ culture of corruption is alive and well.”

The alleged campaign-finance scheme had far-reaching political effects: With DeLay’s fundraising muscle, the GOP took control of the Texas House for the first time in 130 years, then pushed through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that resulted in more Texas Republicans going to Congress.

At the court hearing last month, DeLay’s lawyers asked for a quick decision on their request for a dismissal, and, if the ruling went against DeLay, a prompt trial, in hopes that he could regain his leadership post by the time the House reconvenes in late January. But the judge said at the time that it was unlikely the case would go to trial before the first of the year.

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri became majority leader when DeLay stepped aside.

Bid to move the trial
The judge has yet to rule on a defense bid to move DeLay’s trial out of liberal, Democratic-leaning Austin and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. DeGuerin accused the district attorney of shopping the DeLay case around to different grand juries until he found one that would indict the congressman.

The case ended up before Priest, a Democrat, after DeLay’s attorneys had a previous judge removed for contributing to Democratic candidates and causes. Priest has made few political contributions over the years.

The judge acted as a CNN-USA Today/Gallup poll showed that DeLay’s political standing has weakened considerably in his home district around Houston.

The survey found that 49 percent of registered voters questioned said they are more likely to vote for a Democratic challenger than for DeLay in 2006, and 36 percent said they would be more likey to vote for DeLay.

Former Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson is planning to challenge DeLay in the 2006 elections.

The survey also found that 55 percent of registered voters said that the charges that DeLay broke campaign finance laws are definitely or probably true, while 34 percent said they were probably or definitely not true.

NBC News' Mike Viqueira contributed to this report.

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"DeLay is so addicted to corporate money that he is now accepting it to fight the charges that he laundered it. The man lacks any sense of decency or, apparently, irony." --Andrew Wheat, Texas Observer, November 18, 2005



DeLay Case Holds Future of GOP Leadership

Dec 5, 9:01 AM (ET)
By SUZANNE GAMBOA



(AP) Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and his wife, Christine, arrive for a court appearance in Austin, Texas,...

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Texas judge's ruling expected this week could force Rep. Tom DeLay to stand trial on conspiracy and money-laundering charges, as well as decide the future of the House Republican leadership and further shake a GOP hit hard by recent scandal.

Since the September indictment that required him to step down as House majority leader, DeLay has cast himself as the victim of a political vendetta. He has pushed for the case to be resolved before January, when Congress reconvenes, so he can quickly return to his leadership post.

Senior Judge Pat Priest is expected to rule on a motion to throw out the indictment by Tuesday.

"I see this as a do-or-die moment for Tom DeLay's future as majority leader," David Cannon, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, said last week.

If the charges are dismissed, DeLay, R-Texas, will be back as majority leader as soon as he can get word to Republican leaders. If not, he's looking at a trial that isn't likely to begin before January.

He still has a chance of returning as long as the House GOP caucus is patient. At any time, though, his colleagues could decide to hold new elections if at least 50 of them support a motion and it wins approval by a majority of the 230-member caucus.

Congress will adjourn in mid-December, then reconvene Jan. 18 for President Bush's State of the Union address. But members probably will recess again and not begin work until Feb. 1.

"If we have a quick time line, there is a certain segment of Congress willing to be patient," said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt has filled in as majority leader. But because Blunt is largely a caretaker and may not be around by summer, his power is dramatically diminished, Canon said.

"While you can have that for a few months, you can't have that for another year. It would create an unstable situation for the party and the president. He needs leadership to shepherd his legislation through Congress too."

A ruling in DeLay's favor would certainly be a bright spot for Republicans, who have had a heavy load of bad news from slumping approval ratings for Bush, congressional scandals, the Iraq war and the CIA leak case.

The latest bad news came a week ago, when eight-term Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., resigned after admitting he accepted $2.4 million in bribes for defense contracts.

Also causing much concern among party members is the federal investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is alleged to have defrauded several Indian tribes of millions of dollars. Abramoff's partner Michael Scanlon, a former aide to DeLay, pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to bribe officials. He is now a government witness.

DeLay was closely associated with Abramoff, once calling him "one of my closest and dearest friends." On a trip to Scotland, some of his expenses ended up on Abramoff's charge card; he used Abramoff's skybox at Washington's MCI Center for political events and his wife worked for a lobby firm that received client referrals from Abramoff.

DeLay and his wife have not been charged with any wrongdoing in the case.

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Justice staffers critical of DeLay redistricting plan

WASHINGTON Justice Department lawyers objected to a Texas redistricting plan orchestrated by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

However, top department officials approved the plan anyway and brushed aside concerns about diluting minority voting strength.

All that's according to an agency memo released today.

The plan was designed to boost Texas Republicans' chances of winning U-S House seats. Approved by the Justice Department, the new district lines were used in the 2002 elections to take boost the G-O-P share of the 32 House seats from Texas from 15 to 22.

The plan was approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in special sessions after Democratic lawmakers fled the state capital in a bid to block votes on the new boundaries.

The redistricting plan has been challenged in court by Democrats and minority voting groups, claiming it's unconstitutional. The U-S Supreme Court is expected to announce soon whether it'll consider the case.

Contents of the memo were first reported in today's editions of The Washington Post.

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