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Washington poised for revelations from Abramoff
Yahoo Newsss/AFP
December 30, 2005

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The political establishment here is on edge as a former top lobbyist embroiled in a wide-ranging corruption scandal appears poised to reveal some dark political secrets.

Jack Abramoff, a Republican activist for 20 years and a generous donor to President George W. Bush's election and reelection campaigns, is accused of fraud in a criminal trial due to begin in Miami, Florida, on January 9.

Arguably Washington's biggest influence peddler before his indictment, Abramoff, who has made millions from his lobbying activities, is facing charges in connection with the purchase of SunCruz Casinos, a fleet of casino boats.

But the former lobbyist is reportedly negotiating a plea deal with Justice Department prosecutors and his insider revelations could rock the political establishment in the nation's capital.

Such a deal would likely see Abramoff, 47, serve a reduced prison term in return for a guilty plea and an agreement to testify against former associates in related fraud and bribery cases.

The Washington Post, which has reportedly extensively about Abramoff, this week described him as the "central figure in what could become the biggest congressional corruption scandal in generations."

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, 210 current members of Congress have received contributions from Abramoff, his Indian tribe clients or SunCruz Casinos since 1999.

One top recipient was House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who received 2,500 dollars from Abramoff and 66,500 dollars from Indian tribes that were Abramoff's clients.

Although Abramoff made far more campaign donations to Republican lawmakers, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada received 30,500 dollars from Abramoff's tribal clients.

Republican representative Robert Ney of Ohio has already been subpoenaed in relation to the casino probe. Ney backed Abramoff's purchase of SunCruz Casinos, but has said he was misled by the lobbyist.

Abramoff "knows where a lot of the bodies are buried," according to Bill Allison, a spokesman for the Center for Public Integrity.

"Abramoff goes to the much broader issue of how the Republicans have held their majority together," he said, referring to the Republican control of both houses of Congress.

Many of the political recipients of Abramoff's lobbying efforts have fast distanced themselves from the tarnished political operative who wined and dined top politicos.

Republican Senator Conrad Burns has returned 150,000 dollars in campaign donations from Abramoff while Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan has returned 67,000 dollars.

Abramoff's dealings had already shone a spotlight on former House majority leader Tom DeLay, who accepted a 2000 golfing trip to Scotland partly paid for by the lobbyist.

The powerful Texas Republican has said the financial arrangements for the trip were proper.

DeLay was forced to step down as majority leader earlier this year after being indicted on separate campaign finance charges.

Opposition Democrats are trying to paint Abramoff as a poster boy of Washington corruption with close ties to the Bush administration ahead of the 2006 congressional elections.

"A key player in the Republican Party's culture of corruption, Jack Abramoff has close links to the Bush Administration," Democratic Party spokeswoman Karen Finney has said.

For several years prior to his indictment in August, Abramoff was one of Washington's top lobbyists amassing a personal fortune defending such disparate interests as US Indian tribes and the Pakistani military.

A congressional probe last year found that he bilked money from his own clients such as the Coushatta nation Indian tribe of Louisiana.

"He is the golden boy gone bad of the American political system," Coushatta president Kevin Sickey said last month at a congressional hearing on 66 million dollars several Indian nations gave Abramoff and his associates.

Until recently, Abramoff owned a Washington restaurant, Signatures, leased luxurious suites at sports stadiums and had memberships at famous golf clubs.