And Ney and Rohrabacher and Blunt and LoBiondo and Doolittle...
And Perhaps a Crack Exposed in the Previously Mighty Congressional Dam of Legal Obstruction?
By Brad Friedman on 7/5/2005, 10:19pm PT  

New York Times gets back into the reporting game with two stories in one day on Trouble in Tom Delay Land.

In a short piece by Philip Shenon, it's reported that the U.S. House Resources Committee has asked the Dept. of Justice to widen their criminal investigation into Jack Abramoff, the "Washington lobbyist whose ties to Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader, and other prominent lawmakers are the subject of inquiries throughout the government."

The request, sent in a letter last week, according to the Times, "cited a flurry of accusations of wrongdoing involving Mr. Abramoff's multimillion-dollar lobbying on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands, a small American commonwealth in the Pacific."

What we find most notable here is that a House Committee, all of which are headed by Republicans, has finally taken any kind of proactive stance in any of the myriad criminal corruption scandals now rocking Capitol Hill (or at least percolating just below the surface, even if they haven't shown up "in person" yet in the Committee Hearing rooms --- basement broom-closet hearings held by Democrats notwithstanding.)

It is, as the Times points out, "the first known request by a Congressional committee for prosecutors to review accusations of criminal conduct in the lobbying activities of Mr. Abramoff, who was one of the most powerful and best-paid Republican lobbyists in Washington."

We'll not bother to ask "what took you so long", but rather take heart in that action of some sort may finally be beginning.

As to how the Northern Marianias and Abramoff will all come back to bite delay, Shenon explains...

A copy of the letter was provided to The New York Times by the office of Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who is a member of the Resources Committee and who has led efforts in Congress to try to improve labor conditions in the Northern Marianas.

Mr. Miller, who has been calling for months for the committee to investigate Mr. Abramoff and his lobbying for the islands, said in an interview that Mr. DeLay should be worried by the possibility of a criminal investigation of Mr. Abramoff's activities on behalf of the Northern Marianas.

"I wouldn't be comfortable if I were him," Mr. Miller said of Mr. DeLay. "Clearly we're talking about a close relationship with Abramoff." He said Mr. DeLay had been instrumental in blocking Congressional efforts to end labor abuses in the islands.

...But that's not all the Times has today on Abramoff/Delay!...

In another Times piece today, the use of Abramoff's restaurant "Signatures" to funnel thousands of dollars of in-kind gifts and contributions to Republican House Members finally comes under scrutiny. This scandal has also been simmering just below the surface for some time, and we're glad to see that it's the NY Times who is finally cracking it open a bit.

In a story by the appropriately-monickered Glen Justice, some of the gladhanding that took place at the fomer D.C. hotspot (it's still open, just not quite as hot as it once was) is outlined.

Delay leads the pack in favors apparently received from Abramoff at the restaurant where "fundraisers" were regularly thrown by scores of Representatives. But Delay wasn't the only one. Justice explains...

Mr. Abramoff could patronize his own business - his meals were sometimes prepared in a special kosher kitchen - while billing clients thousands of dollars. And he could generate good will by offering free food and drink to guests including Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, now the majority leader, and other members of Congress, according to restaurant records and interviews with former employees.
...
In the restaurant's early months, a customer list noted who could dine for free, according to two former managers. A copy obtained by The New York Times shows handwritten notes next to 18 names - lawyers, lobbyists and eight current or former lawmakers - designating them as "FOO Comp," for friend of owner, or "A-Comp," for associate of owner.

Often, guests dined with Mr. Abramoff and did not receive a check, employees said, though Congressional rules prohibit lawmakers from receiving expensive gifts, including food.

"They would come in for lunch with Jack and they wouldn't get a bill," Laura Clifton, a former dining room manager at Signatures, said of Mr. Abramoff's guests. "It was a showplace and it was for business," Ms. Clifton added. "It was all business all the time."

Mr. Abramoff was in the restaurant almost daily, often treating a table full of guests to hundreds of dollars worth of food, wine and liquor, financial records show. Over a 17-month period in 2002 and 2003, the restaurant gave away about $180,000 in food and drink, with Mr. Abramoff's tab roughly $65,000 for himself and his guests, the records say.
...
Mr. Abramoff, who was once a top lobbyist for the Greenberg Traurig law firm, is under investigation by a Congressional committee and a federal grand jury, which are looking into accusations that he defrauded four Indian tribes that paid him more than $80 million by inflating expenses, collecting kickbacks from consultants and diverting money intended for lobbying to pet projects.

His dealings at Signatures, it increasingly appears, are figuring in the inquiries.

A Congressional official who is monitoring the Justice Department's investigation of Mr. Abramoff said his use of Signatures in promoting his lobbying work was among the issues being examined by the grand jury. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the investigation, said Mr. Abramoff was known to entertain lawmakers who might assist his lobbying clients.

Documents released by Congressional investigators show tribes got hefty bills for meetings at Signatures. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians was billed more than $5,600 for Mr. Abramoff's meals with public officials and other lobbyists in 2002, records show.

But, as we've said, it was much more than just Delay who made out...A few of our favorite Republicans may get bit here as well [emphasis added]:

Mr. [Dana] Rohrabacher [R-CA], whose name bears the "FOO Comp" designation on the customer list, said he ate at Signatures at Mr. Abramoff's expense once or twice a month...
...
Another regular visitor was Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who is chairman of the Committee on House Administration...Mr. Ney also frequently ate and drank without paying as he spent evenings talking with lobbyists and Congressional staffers.
...
Restaurant records show a dinner for 18 was planned for Mr. Ney in April 2002. It was organized by Neil Volz, Mr. Ney's former chief of staff who was working with Mr. Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig at the time.

The cost of the planned event was listed at roughly $70 per person with a $1,500 minimum. Campaign finance records show no payment from Mr. Ney's campaign or his political action committee, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.
...
Former employees also say Representative John T. Doolittle, a California Republican whose name appears on the list with the FOO Comp designation, was given free meals at the restaurant.
...
Other lawmakers whose names carried the "FOO" notation include Republican Representatives Roy Blunt of Missouri and Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey

Sounds like there were more than just a few grand old parties at Signatures! We'll hope the boys remembered to tip well! Though from the way former employees are singing, it sure doesn't sound like it!