Lobbyist Trent Lott Under Federal Investigation


After the President signed his name to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, members of Congress had until January 1st to vacacte their seats if they wanted to trade the black suit and American flag lapel of Capitol Hill for the black suit and American flag lapel of K Street. The ethics reform bill extended the "cooling off" period for lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from one year to two years, which would leave retired members of Congress with 2 years to find something to do – write your memoirs or teach a class at the university that got so many earmarks they named a building after you – before they can make the big bucks on K Street. When Sen. Trent Lott announced his sudden retirement before the "cooling off" extension took effect it was clear that he wasn’t looking to settle down at the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at Ole Miss. No, Lott was getting out early to work with his old bipartisan pal John Breaux on K Street.

There were, however, rumors that avoiding the "cooling off" extension was not the exact reason for Lott’s early exit from his long congressional career. The Wall Street Journal puts those rumors to rest by publishing details of a federal investigation into Lott’s possible role in a case involving the bribing of Mississippi judges by his half-brother Richard "Dickie" Scruggs:

Federal agents are investigating whether former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott knowingly played a role in an alleged conspiracy in 2006 to influence a Mississippi judge presiding over a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against famed plaintiff attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, according to people familiar with the situation.

Mr. Scruggs and several associates are scheduled to stand trial March 31 on charges that they offered $40,000 in bribes to State Court Judge Henry L. Lackey in return for a favorable ruling in a lawsuit against Mr. Scruggs over $26.5 million in legal fees.

Mr. Lott, who is a brother-in-law to Mr. Scruggs, unexpectedly announced his resignation from the Senate two days before Mr. Scruggs was indicted last November. Since then, Mr. Lott has been interviewed by federal agents at least once, according to a person familiar with the case.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Oxford, Miss., which is leading the investigation, is also examining whether several associates of Mr. Scruggs induced a different Mississippi jurist, Hinds County Judge Robert Delaughter, to rule in favor of Mr. Scruggs in a separate lawsuit by promising that Mr. Lott would recommend Judge Delaughter for a seat on the federal bench.

Several people familiar with the situation say that associates of Mr. Scruggs told investigators that Mr. Scruggs relayed Judge Delaughter’s interest in the federal judgeship to then-Sen. Lott. In early 2006, Mr. Lott called the judge and discussed his interest in the federal bench, those people say. Seven months later, in August 2006, Judge Delaughter delivered a ruling widely considered favorable to Mr. Scruggs.

A month after that, President Bush nominated a Gulfport, Miss., lawyer named Halil "Sul" Ozerden to the vacant seat on the federal bench Mr. Delaughter had allegedly been interested in. People familiar with the process said Mr. Lott and Mississippi’s other U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, approved of the appointment. The full Senate confirmed Mr. Ozerden in April 2007.

…Messrs. Scruggs and Langston learned that Mr. Delaughter was interested in becoming a federal judge. "Based on this knowledge," the prosecutor said, "Scruggs told Langston to let the judge know that if he ruled in his favor he would pass his name along for consideration regarding the federal judgeship."…

At a hearing on motions related to Mr. Scruggs’s trial yesterday, Mr. Balducci [the attorney who offered the bribe to Judge Lackey] testified that Mr. Scruggs tried to use Sen. Lott to influence Mr. Delaughter.