The Abramoff investigation: How wide, how high?

It's anybody's guess, and everyone seems to have one.

Published January 4, 2006 6:44PM (EST)

At a press conference Tuesday, the chief of the Justice Department's criminal division said that the Jack Abramoff corruption scheme is "very extensive" and that prosecutors would follow it "wherever it goes."

How far -- and how high -- is that? Abramoff and his business partner, Michael Scanlon, have already admitted their guilt. Prosecutors have already charged David Safavian, the Bush administration's chief procurement official. And in court documents filed Tuesday, Abramoff implicated, albeit not by name, Ohio Rep. Bob Ney as well as Tony Rudy, a former aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Beyond that, it's anybody's guess, and it seems that everyone has one.

The New York Times, relying on the word of "participants in the case," says that the Abramoff investigation encompasses "dozens of political operatives, including former congressional aides and lobbyists," and that Abramoff's testimony "reaches into the executive and legislative branches and appears to be drawing an ever-tighter ring of evidence" around DeLay and other "senior congressional Republicans." The Washington Post says that Abramoff has agreed to provide information and testimony about "half a dozen House and Senate members" as well as congressional staffers, executive branch officials and other lobbyists. Knight Ridder says the investigation is "thought to involve up to 20 members of Congress and aides and possibly several administration officials."

Those may sound like big numbers, but not if you read the Wall Street Journal this morning. The Journal says that Abramoff claims to have "information that could implicate 60 lawmakers." At the same time, however, the Journal suggests that prosecutors are interested in a somewhat smaller subset than that: Citing the word of "lawyers involved in the case," the Journal says prosecutors are "looking at" Abramoff's dealings with Ney and "at least three other members of Congress and more than a dozen current and former congressional aides."

Those are the numbers. What about the names? There's Ney and almost certainly DeLay, who once called Abramoff one of his "closest and dearest friends" and whose former aides, including Scanlon, are everywhere in the investigation. The Journal and others have reported previously that investigators are looking into Abramoff's dealings with California Rep. John Doolittle, who received contributions from Abramoff and whose wife was hired by an Abramoff foundation, and Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, who has received approximately $150,000 in Abramoff-related contributions.

That's four, two short of "half a dozen" and dozens short of the 60 lawmakers the Journal says Abramoff can implicate. As Abramoff said in his plea agreement Tuesday, he hasn't yet revealed -- at least not publicly -- all that he knows about criminal activity. Stay tuned.

By Tim Grieve

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

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