If the dealer makes a deal

What if Jack Abramoff cooperates with prosecutors?

Published December 2, 2005 8:30PM (EST)

Here's a thought that ought to send chills through Congress: Sources close to the Jack Abramoff investigation tell the New York Times that they expect the GOP lobbyist to try to cut a deal with federal prosecutors in Washington before a trial begins in the criminal case already pending against him in Florida.

As a general matter, prosecutors don't have a lot of incentive for making deals with big fish unless they think such a deal can help them hook an even bigger one. As the Times says, the "potential dimensions" of the Abramoff case are "enormous." How big? We keep hearing that prosecutors are looking at at least six members of Congress, and the Times reports today that investigators are now looking into whether Abramoff hooked up congressional aides with plum jobs at lobbying shops in exchange for legislative favors.

As the Times acknowledges, proving the quid pro quo in a bribery case can be difficult. But it's not so hard if you've got the man doing the bribing testifying for you. Why would Abramoff want to rat out his friends in the GOP? With his former business partner already pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with investigators, Abamoff may be realizing that the only way to avoid serious prison time is to cut the best deal he can now. With a trial set to begin next month in Florida, he doesn't have much time to act before his situation gets much more complicated. And with his lobbying business suddenly a little light, the Times says that Abramoff is running out of something else he once had in abundance: money.

By Tim Grieve

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

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