The Halls of Congress are tension filled as house members and their staff consider their fate as former lobbyist Jack Abramoff gets set to spill his guts.
But for my money, the more interesting question is what are they talking about over vodka rocks at the White House?
It looks like Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio may be in for a beating. Already, the Republican National Congressional Committee has thrown him overboard, with spokesman Carl Forti telling the New York Times “”seeing that only one person was named, there’s got to be a little bit of relief out there.”
But my guess is that Ney is just the small fry. The bigger story may be what Abramoff has to say about his ties to the Bush White House.
The Bush team moved quickly to distance themselves from Abramoff with that fount of credibility Scott McClellan telling reporters “What he is reportedly acknowledging doing is unacceptable and outrageous. If laws were broken, he must be held to account and punished for what he did.”
But the Bush White House ties to Abramoff have long roots and little Scotty saying it isn’t so doesn’t make it true.
Back in May of last year, the Associated Press, in an article published in USA Today and elsewhere, reported that Abramoff had “close contact” with the Bush team, meeting nearly 200 times with contacts within the new administration, including policy advisors to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles. And an article in the Texas observer reports that Abramoff worked on the Bush-Cheney 2000 Transition effort as an advisor to the Department of the Interior.
Campaign finance records also show that Abramoff and his wife also each gave $5,000 to the Bush 2000 recount fund, and made the maximum contribution of $1,000 to the Bush 2000 campaign. Abramoff was also a “Bush pioneer” raising more than $100,000 in contributions in both the 2000 and 2004 Bush-Cheney campaigns.
According to the Texas Observer Article , Abramoff was able to capitalize on his connections, arranging a White House lunch meeting with President Bush in May 2001 for two of his Indian Tribe clients, the same clients he and his partner Michael Scanlon would go on rip off to the tune of $82 million.
While the Abramoff investigation may focus for now on corruption within Congress, given the connections between Abramoff and the Bush White House, one would think that journalists would begin to ask some hard questions about the relationship between Abramoff and members of the Bush administration.
One place to start would be the Department of Interior. Records obtained by the Senate Indian Affairs committee show that Funds from the Coushatta Indian Tribe given to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) at the suggestion of lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid for a public opinion survey provided to U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and others at the Department. Additional documents obtained from the Justice Department by the National Resources Defense Council as part of their effort to gain information about the energy policy taskforce conducted by Vice president Cheney show that CREA provided the Interior Department with public opinion research (dated 5/16/01) suggesting how to talk about energy issues and emphasizing using rising gas prices to promote increased drilling and open the Alaskan National Wilderness Area (ANWR) to oil exploration.
Secretary Norton and others at the Department of Interior have denied any wrongdoing. But journalists might want to take a close look at whether or not the Department of Interior made any favorable rulings on behalf of Jack Abramoff’s clients while accepting outside funding for a public opinion survey provided to the Department that somehow made its way into the office of the Vice President.