How Much Smoke, How Much Fire?

Washington is abuzz with discussion of lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea yesterday. The background on Abramoff’s downfall includes a transaction in which he and a partner defrauded another party in connection with the purchase of a gambling boat. The fraud, which, as described in the press, seems impossibly crude, was a purely private matter that did not involve any public officials. Nevertheless, the authorities had Abramoff dead to rights, and they bargained for what they really wanted: information about Congressmen and their staffers.
How much information Abramoff actually has remains to be seen. The information that was filed yesterday, which can be accessed here, seems surprisingly thin. It deals mostly with allegations that Abramoff defrauded clients, principally Indian tribes, by paying fees to vendors secretly controlled by him. Again, bad news for Abramoff, but of little public interest.
Only one Congressman is mentioned in the information, Bob Ney of Ohio. Paragraph 22 of the information alleges that Abramoff provided “a lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world-famous courses, tickets to sporting events and other entertainment, regular meals at Abramoff’s upscale restaurant, and campaign contributions” to Ney and his staff in exchange for Ney’s “agreement to perform a series of official acts,” most notably, “advancing the application of a client of Abramoff for a license to install wireless telephone infrastructure in the House of Representatives.”
As far as Congress is concerned, that’s the only allegation in the information. Yesterday Congressman Ney’s office released the following statement on the charges:

Congressman Ney has never done anything illegal or improper and the allegations in this plea agreement do not change this fact.


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