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Bush to Give Up $6,000 Linked to Abramoff
Forbes/AP
PETE YOST
January 4, 2006

President Bush's re-election campaign is giving up $6,000 in campaign contributions connected to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who faced more guilty pleas as part of a broad-ranging political corruption investigation.

The once-powerful lobbyist was due in federal court in Miami later Wednesday to plead guilty to fraud charges stemming from his purchases of a Florida gambling boat fleet called SunCruz. The plea is part of an agreement with prosecutors requiring him to cooperate in a broad corruption investigation into members of Congress.

In a plea agreement with government prosecutors Tuesday, Abramoff agreed to tell the FBI about alleged bribes to lawmakers and their aides on issues ranging from Internet gambling to wireless phone service in the House.

The full extent of the investigation is not yet known, but Justice Department officials said they intended 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.

"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive and we will continue to follow it wherever it leads," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal division.

Bush joined several lawmakers, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have announced plans to donate Abramoff's campaign contributions to charity.

Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign, earning the honorary title "pioneer" from the campaign. But the campaign is returning only $6,000 directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes that he worked to win influence for in Washington.

Abramoff, his wife and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan each donated $2,000 to the Bush campaign, said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

"As it stands, this is what we are returning," Schmitt said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible that the two met at holiday receptions. Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the Bush White House, the spokesman said.

DeLay will give campaign contributions connected to Abramoff to charities, his spokesman, Kevin Madden, said in an e-mail Wednesday. The Texas Republican received at least $57,000 in political contributions from Abramoff, his lobbying associates or his tribal clients between 2001 and 2004. DeLay is now awaiting trial in Texas on charges of laundering campaign money used in races for the state legislature.

Court papers in Abramoff's case refer to an aide to DeLay who helped stop anti-gambling legislation regarding the Internet during a time in which DeLay was in the House Republican leadership. Abramoff, the papers state, paid the staffer's wife $50,000 from clients that benefited from the actions of the staffer, identified by a person close to the investigation as Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing. Rudy did not return a phone call Tuesday at his lobbying firm.

DeLay, R-Texas, voted against his party on the Internet anti-gambling legislation which was designed to make it easier for authorities to stop online gambling sites.

DeLay attorney Richard Cullen said he believes that when the investigation is completed and the truth is known that the Justice Department will conclude that his client, who had risen to House majority leader before stepping down from the post last year, did nothing wrong.

Abramoff pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion, with his conduct outlined in court papers that refers to "a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts and influence."

The political ramifications of the Abramoff probe were apparent, with minority Democrats intending to make ethics a campaign issue in this election year. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Abramoff's confession in court was "not a surprise because this Republican Congress is the most corrupt in history and the American people are paying the price."

Some political consultants and analysts are comparing potential damage from the Abramoff investigation to the 1992 House banking scandal that led to the retirement or ouster of 77 lawmakers.

Abramoff's cooperation has made lawmakers nervous.

The court papers in the Washington case refer to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, saying that regarding SunCruz, the congressman placed a statement drafted by Abramoff partner Michael Scanlon in the Congressional Record. The statement, the court papers say, was calculated to pressure the owner of SunCruz to sell on terms favorable to Abramoff.

Ney denies wrongdoing, saying that "at the time I dealt with Jack Abramoff, I obviously did not know, and had no way of knowing, the self-serving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff's activities."

Abramoff and his former partner, Adam Kidan, are charged with concocting a false $23 million wire transfer making it appear they contributed a sizable stake of their own cash into the $147.5 million purchase of cruise ships.

The court papers released Tuesday in Washington raised questions about Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz. The documents say the ex-staffer contacted the congressman on behalf of an Abramoff client that won a lucrative deal from Ney to improve cell phone reception in House buildings.

Volz contacted his ex-boss within one year of leaving the congressman's staff, the court papers say, a possible violation of federal conflict of interest laws which impose a one-year lobbying ban.

Volz referred questions to his attorney, who was not immediately available for comment.

Abramoff was once a well-connected lobbyist able to command almost unimaginable fees: A Louisiana tribe once paid Scanlon and him more than $30 million over 26 months. Now facing up to 11 years in prison, Abramoff apologized after pleading guilty.

"Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret for all my actions and mistakes," Abramoff said. "I hope I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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