Yesterday marked the release of the much-anticipated Senate Indian Affairs Committee report on the illegal activities of Jack Abramoff and pals. While the report doesn't provide much new information, especially if you spent your time watching the hearings, it bring the story back into full view and gives a few new bits of info. Unfortunately, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the committee, did not call any members of Congress to testify, however one member gets a special shout-out.
- The Washington Post reports that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Representative #1 according to court documents, falsely stated to the committee that he was not aware of "a Texas Indian tribe represented by lobbyist Jack Abramoff" even though he had held numerous meetings with the Tigua tribe and with Abramoff. Ney's statements have been contradicted by many including the Tiguas themselves and his former chief of staff Neil Volz. Ney's spokesman stated that the committee meeting with the congressman "was not conducted under oath." So, I'll take that as an admission that Ney did lie. Paul Kiel will take that as a felony, "You lie to Senate investigators, it's a felony -- regardless of whether you're under oath or not. Ney might want to ask David Safavian about that -- he was just convicted of doing the very same thing."
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on their state's golden child Ralph Reed's connections to the Abramoff scandal. Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition and current candidate for Georgia Lt. Governor, received "more than $5 million through a series of corporations to satisfy what they said were Ralph Reed's political concerns that he would be linked to the cash". The report states that Reed was not involved in any clear wrongdoing, as the majority of the criminal activity did not happen until he was squeezed out, but that his use of front corporations to receive the money deserves further investigation. Reed used his influence among right-wing Christian organizations to stir up grassroots opposition to an Indian casino. The use of third party corporations to receive the money implies that Reed was trying to hide the fact that he was being paid by another tribe that was protecting its gambling operation.
- And finally Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker notes that Italia Federici, the head of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), lied in her testimony to the committee (which was plainly obvious if you watched her weasel her way through it). Kiel recounts the role that Federici and CREA played in this saga:
Federici had "juice" (as Abramoff put it in an email) at Interior, because she'd worked closely with Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who'd founded CREA. So Abramoff directed his clients to pump money into CREA and asked for a steady stream of favors from Federici. Abramoff's clients gave $500,000 -- a substantial portion of CREA's funds came from Abramoff. But Federici just won't admit that Abramoff was buying access. She testified -- and I'm not making this up -- that she was helpful to Abramoff in order “to be nice.” The committee, unsurprisingly, doesn't believe her.The committee thinks that she lied to them and that could mean an indictment is down the road. Indicting Federici immediately puts the Abramoff scandal into the Interior Department as her "juice" was former Deputy Secretary of the Interior J. Stephen Griles, who also gave mealy-mouthed answers to the committee investigators.
- Roll Call tells Congress to "Start Over" on lobbying and ethics reform instead of heading forward, "[i]n typical GOP fashion," in manufacturing a compromise before the conference committee meets. The newspaper calls the reform the "Big Nothing" as it fails to fix the inherent problems in the matrix between lobbyists and Congress. The revolving door is a specific case that is not adequately addressed, a problem considering the revelations about members of Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis' (R-Calif.) staff ferrying between K Street and Capitol Hill.
- The Columbus Dispatch points to the key outcome of the David Safavian guilty verdict, that Bob Ney (R-Ohio) is in deep trouble. The Safavian trial cements Ney's former chief of staff Neil Volz as a credible witness and also provides the prosecution with the ability to coerce more plea agreements from staffers and former staffers of lawmakers. The prosecution's success could signal movement towards other indictments sooner rather than later.
- Looks like Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) earmarks are finding enemies within his own party. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) fired a shot across the bow at Hastert over an earmark Hastert inserted into the defense appropriations bill that would benefit a technology company headed by a former aide to the Speaker. Flake intends on offering an amendment to strip the earmark from the bill.
- Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for Jack Abramoff, pens an op-ed in USA Today that lambasts the Congress for not acting on real reform. He pinpoints the problem in the nexus of money and fundraising work provided by lobbyists who have a particular interest in legislation.
- Laura Rozen gives a round-up of the allegations and discoveries in the investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) in this month's American Prospect.
Rep. [sw: Bob Ney] (R-Ohio) didn't meet a private jet flight that he didn't like. That is until he became entangled in the lobbying scandal surrounding the activities of Jack Abramoff. Ney's involvement in the scandal is tied to a private jet trip that he took with Abramoff and associates to the storied links in Scotland. Now, the previously high-flying Ney, is grounded:
After accepting 131 trips worth $234,775 in 4 1/2 years, Ney and his staff haven't let a private outside group pay for their travel since June 14, 2005, according to a previous report. No trips were listed on the report released Wednesday and dated May 15.Continue reading
Not so good. Looks like [sw: Bob Ney] (R-OH) isn't holding up so great under the pressure of the media focus due to his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney verbally attacks a reporter for pursuing the story and says that the reporter doesn't care about the people of Ohio (is Ney running against this reporter in November or something?). Justin Rood asks Ney a few questions on whether Ney's actions were helping the people of Ohio: "how does Ney think the people of Ohio benefited from him inserting glowing testimony into the Congressional Record about the shady Abramoff-linked gambling outfit, SunCruz Casinos? How did he think they would benefit from relaxing sanctions against Iran, which he pushed former Secretary of State Colin Powell to do at the behest of a convicted felon? And how did Ohioans benefit from his efforts to force the reopening of an indian tribal casino in Texas after the tribe -- an Abramoff client, natch -- gave him $32,000?" We can expect the answer to come in a shrill, uncapitalized email sent from the congressman's Blackberry. Or not.Continue reading
- The San Diego Union Tribune looks at San Diego Rep. [sw: Duncan Hunter] (R-CA) and the campaign contributions that he has received from a certain lobbyist with a shady past (read: convicted criminal). "King of Pork" [sw: Hal Rogers] (R-KY) also pops up in the story.
- Rep. [sw: Bob Ney] (R-OH) has a new excuse for going on an all-expenses paid trip to Scotland with Jack Abramoff and friends. His spokesman is saying that he certainly didn't go to play golf because Ney hates golf as much as he hates "an all-night conference committee meeting on an arcane tax issue." He hates dealing with arcane tax issues, good thing he's not in government. Wait a second...!
- Justin Rood reports that David Safavian implicated himself in court today... As a complete and total idiot.
"Did you think you were qualified for the job?" Zeidenberg asked. "Probably not, actually," Safavian said. "Are you intelligent enough to do the job?" Zeidenberg followed up. Safavian gave an extensive pause. "I suppose so."
- Roll Call reports that members of the House and Justice Department officials are scheduled to sit down and hash out issues relating to the raid on Rep. [sw: William Jefferson]'s (D-LA) office and "begin negotiations on a set of procedures for dealing with possible future search warrants for Congressional offices." Meanwhile, House lawyers will file a brief in federal court claiming that the raid was unconstitutional. Continue reading
This photograph is an absolute career killer. (Appearing in the picture are Neil Volz and Ralph Reed on the left, Bob Ney and David Safavian in the middle, and Jack Abramoff on the right.)
Jack Abramoff developed contacts with high-level officials in government whom he referred to as "champions", according to Neil Volz, the former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) who testified against David Safavian, a former "champion". Volz, who left Ney's office to work for Abramoff and recently pled guilty to a number of charges, also provided details of the attempted purchases of the Old Post Office Building and land in Maryland. In those details the case against Bob Ney begins to unfold:
Safavian, who formerly worked with Abramoff, arrived at GSA as chief of staff in May 2002. He and Abramoff began e-mailing each other about two properties controlled by the GSA. One was land in White Oak, in Montgomery County, where Abramoff hoped to relocate a Jewish academy he founded. On advice from Safavian, Volz said, the lobbyists first tried to insert language in an election reform bill. "We had a champion in the Congress who had already agreed to attach another provision," Volz testified, identifying the lawmaker as "Congressman Ney." Ney had agreed to try to add language to the same bill that would have aided a Texas Indian tribe represented by Abramoff. When that did not work, Volz said, Ney told him of another "potential vehicle" on the legislative agenda, a line of questioning U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman cut off as "hearsay" evidence. Volz sought help in receiving information on the land from GSA through an inquiry by the chief of staff to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), but backed off when the GSA asked Capito's office why she wanted the information. The second property Abramoff sought was the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Abramoff, with a tribal client, wanted to convert it into a luxury hotel and sought to have GSA tailor the bid specifications to the advantage of the tribe. "We were trying to rig the rule so our client could get the best chance," Volz said. He and Williams solicited letters to GSA from Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), though in the end their efforts were not "the golden plan we were hoping for," Volz said. Nonetheless, he said, Safavian "concurred with my advice that it was better to have the letter from the Hill before the bid was set."The prize for being an Abramoff "champion" looks pretty bad. I mean who wants to win a federal investigation of your activities by an aggressive Public Integrity Unit. That's a bad prize. Continue reading
Neil Volz brought out his pointer finger today as he testified at the tiral of David Safavian. According to the Associated Press, Volz stated that he "received assistance from several Republican congressmen including, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio." Denials of wrong doing by spokesmen for the four congressmen are forthcoming. "The congressman did not have a legislative relationship with that lobbyist!"Continue reading
Neil Volz, the former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), is set to testify in the trial of former White House official David Safavian. Volz, who pled guilty to conspiring to give illegal gifts and to breaking the one-year lobbying ban rule, will "describe how Mr. Abramoff organized a $130,000 golf trip to Scotland by private jet in August 2002 for a group that included Mr. Ney and three House aides." Two of the aides who went on the trip have been subpoenaed, although one of them is refusing to testify citing Fifth Amendment concerns.Continue reading
- Jack Abramoff's emails to GSA official David Safavian were introduced in the trial of the former Bush administration official yesterday. In one email Abramoff expresses outrage over the possibility of losing the Old Post Office Building, which he was trying to get Safavian to sell to him to turn into a five-star hotel, to a women's group intent on turning the building into a women's history museum. "'What idiots!' the lobbyist wrote. 'This would kill any five star hotel for sure.'"
- Brian Ross reaffirmed his story about Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) in today's Washington Post although he adds that it "could wash out and be nothing."
- Two more aides to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) have been subpoenaed in relation to the Jack Abramoff bribery investigation, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The aides, Patrick Vinovich and Will Heaton, both accompanied Ney, Abramoff, Safavian, and Ralph Reed on the infamous 2002 "golf golf golf" trip to Scotland. Vinovich will exercise his Fifth Amendment rights to not testify in the Safavian case, however his financial records will be provided as evidence.
- "When they found the money in the freezer, man … I was kind of shocked. I just never thought he would get caught up — allegedly — in that type of situation." Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) alleged misdeeds are the new talk of the town in hurricane ravaged New Orleans, according to the Los Angeles Times. Residents are in shock over the allegations with some finding it incomprehensible for Jefferson to have done these things while others finding his alleged actions to confirm long-standing doubts about his character. The most meaningful quote in article reads, "I personally liked the man. After Katrina, we need him in the House Ways and Means Committee. It's a blow, not just for the city but the whole state. We need more positive things down here right now to get on our feet."
- Hi, I'm a journalist and I'm not going to tell you that I'm being paid by a candidate for office to write this column in support of his candidacy. Ethical schmethical!