With friends like these ...

Tom DeLay's former aide -- and Jack Abramoff's former partner -- is cooperating with prosecutors now, and he seems to be enjoying it.

Published November 22, 2005 2:00PM (EST)

What's that line about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff and Bob Ney might be thinking about it this morning as they contemplate the news that Michael Scanlon has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

A quick refresher here: Scanlon is a former aide to DeLay who left to work as Abramoff's lobbying partner. In the criminal charge to which he pleaded guilty yesterday, Scanlon is said to have conspired with a golf-trip-arranging "Lobbyist A" to give gifts to a member of Congress and his staff in exchange for legislative favors, including a contract to install phone equipment in the Capitol that went to one of Scanlon's clients. Although the member of Congress is identified only as "Representative No. 1," the man in question is plainly Ney. Bloomberg does a fine job of connecting the dots: "Rep. Robert Ney, an Ohio Republican, took a 2002 golf trip to Scotland paid for by Abramoff and had responsibility as chairman of the House Administration Committee for the Capitol's phone infrastructure. Ney is also the only member of Congress to accept donations from both Abramoff and Scanlon, taking in at least $56,500 between 2001 and 2004 from the lobbyists and their tribal clients."

Ney's office says he hasn't been told that he's a target of the investigation. And while the congressman has been the subject of a subpoena, his spokesman says he's really just a victim. "All that this plea agreement shows is that Mr. Scanlon had a deliberate, secret, and well-concealed scheme to defraud many people, and it appears, unfortunately, that Representative Ney was one of the many people defrauded," Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement.

If Scanlon keeps singing, there could be a lot of "victims" in Washington soon. Sources close to the federal investigation tell the Washington Post that investigators "are looking at half a dozen members of Congress, current and former senior Hill aides, a former deputy secretary of the interior, and Abramoff's former lobbying colleagues."

With the possibility of five years in prison and a $19.7 million restitution order hanging over his head, Scanlon has every incentive to help prosecutors bring down Abramoff, DeLay, Ney and others. The most frightening part for the men who may soon be targets? As the Post notes, Scanlon almost seems to be enjoying his role. As he left a press conference yesterday after his plea hearing, Scanlon turned to the reporters there and said, "Thanks, guys. I'll be in touch."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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