Abramoff says he's sorry; who's next?

As the lobbyist pleads guilty, Washington waits for other shoes to drop.

Published January 3, 2006 7:02PM (EST)

Memo to California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher: The next time you're about to open your mouth in defense of a friend, make sure he's not about to plead guilty to federal criminal charges.

In the Washington Post over the weekend, Rohrabacher portrayed his pal Jack Abramoff as the victim of bad press. "I think he's been dealt a bad hand and the worst, rawest deal I've ever seen in my life," Rohrabacher said. "Words like bribery are being used to describe things that happened every day in Washington and are not bribes."

We'd say, "Tell it to the judge," only there's no need for that. In Washington this afternoon, Abramoff pleaded guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion. It's not "bribery" per se, but it's awfully close. Among the allegations Abramoff admitted: He and his co-conspiractors provided a member of Congress "a stream of things of value" in exchange for official acts that would benefit Abramoff, his clients and his business.

Abramoff said all the things he was supposed to say today. He said he was sorry; he said that his remaining days -- and at 47, he will have a lot of them -- will be filled with regret; and he said that he'll hope to "earn forgiveness from the Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer."

For that, Abramoff may need to wait in line. Abramoff isn't the first figure to go down in the federal criminal investigation surrounding his lobbying activities. His business partner, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty in November. And he won't be the last. If the criminal charges filed against Abramoff are any clue, prosecutors will move next against Rep. Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who isn't identified by name in the indictment but is plainly the unidentified "Representative #1" who is alleged to have agreed to help Abramoff and his clients in exchange for that "stream of things of value."

But as we noted earlier today, the criminal information filed against Abramoff speaks of "public officials" and "members of Congress," suggesting that there's more than one Bob Ney waiting to hear from prosecutors. The Washington Post provides some clues as to who's next. Tom DeLay will obviously be a focus. If Ney received "a stream" of things of value from Abramoff, DeLay wallowed in an ocean of them: trips to the Mariana Islands, the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom and more than $70,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff, his associates and his clients.

The Post says that prosecutors are also interested in the dealings of Edwin Buckham and Tony Rudy, both of whom served as top aides to DeLay, and J. Steven Griles, a former deputy Interior secretary who received a job offer from Abramoff as the lobbyist was working the department on behalf of his Indian clients. The Post notes that Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and California Rep. John Doolittle, both Republicans, also have close ties to Abramoff, and that business dealings involving the wives of Doolittle and DeLay could spell trouble for them.

It's not clear how much talking Abramoff has done so far, nor is it clear when he'll be finished. After Abramoff entered his guilty plea today, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said she'd hold off on any discussion of Abramoff's sentence until he's done cooperating with federal prosecutors. For Republicans in Washington, 2006 is already looking like a very long year.

By Tim Grieve

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

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