Monday, November 21, 2005

Does Abramoff Scandal Threaten Vitter?

After about a gazillion years of Republican harping about Democratic corruption, it looks like the Jack Abramoff scandal appears that it could well involve significant members of the Republican Congressional leadership in Washington.

Abramoff's partner in crime, Michael Scanlon, copped a plea today in a federal court in Washington, agreeing to turn state's evidence against Abramoff. Scanlon knows everything that happened. Much of the money involved in the scandal ($80 million from Indian tribes alone) flowed through his bank accounts. He's agreed to give the tribes $19 million in restitution.

The indictment alleges that Scanlon and Abramoff used Abramoff's Washington restaurant Signatures and luxury boxes at the MCI Center and FedEx Field to hand out favors to lawmakers and policy makers. Those favors apparently came in the form of not billing for things like food and drinks.

According to the New York Times, Scanlon's plea agreement included new information:
The plea agreement released Monday offered new details of many of the accusations against Mr. Scanlon.

It said that beginning in January 2000, Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Abramoff conspired to begin offering a "stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts and influence and agreements to provide official action and influence."

"Those things of value included, but are not limited to, travel, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment, election support for candidates for government office, employment for officials and relatives of officials and campaign contributions," it

One of those "candidates for government office" who benefited from the Abramoff/Scanlon partnership was then-Congressman, now United States Senator David Vitter.

An April 15, 2005, article in BusinessWeek highlighted an Abramoff-sponsored fund raiser for Vitter held at Signatures on September 9, 2003:
A separate fund-raiser at the restaurant is causing headaches for freshman Senator David Vitter (R-La.). After BusinessWeek inquired about his Sept. 9, 2003, evening fund-raiser at the restaurant -- where then-Representative Vitter raised $12,000 -- the senator sent letters seeking clarification to the FEC and to Signatures restaurant on Apr. 15.

A Vitter spokesman says the campaign had signed a contract agreeing to pay for the 16-person event and provided Vitter's personal American Express card number to cover the tab -- but was never billed. Nor did the campaign report the event as an in-kind contribution.

A notice advertising the event to potential donors said the $1,000 per-head cocktail reception would be hosted by Abramoff, but Vitter's office now says that the lobbyist wasn't at the dinner.

GREAT LOBSTER. In his letter to FEC General Counsel Larry Norton, Vitter asks the commission for advice on how to "report this information on our FEC reports.... We do not want to compound one reporting error with another." In a letter to Signatures, Vitter says the restaurant "did not comply with the terms of our agreement" to charge the event to his personal credit card. "I am hereby directing you to charge my credit card today for the costs of the event and to immediately furnish me with proof that the charges have been duly posted," he writes.
Speculation in Washington is that this scandal will turn out to be the biggest Congressional scandal in more than a century. Coming as it does during a time when Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the White House, the bulk of the impact will be on that party and its 'conservative' leaders.

Apparently tax cuts for the rich, ripping away the social safety net, and shifting the federal tax burdens to the middle class were not enough for this crowd. They wanted more.

Here it comes!

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