In the fall of 2005 dominos were falling fast in the Jack Abramoff investigation. And they were falling in one very clear direction, closer and closer to Tom DeLay.
On November 21st, 2005, Michael Scanlon, Jack Abramoff's partner in the Indian fraud and bribery schemes, pled guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States.
Tony Rudy pled guilty March 31st, 2006 to one count of Conspiracy. He was a former aide to Tom DeLay, a colleague of Jack Abramoff's and then a lobbyist at Alexander Strategy Group. He was named (“Staffer A”) as a coconspirator in Abramoff's plea
The charge carries a maximum of five years, but because of Rudy's cooperation, prosecutors will recommend a sentencing range between two years and two years, six months. Rudy will pay at least $250,000 in restitution.
Ed Buckham, one-time chief of staff to Tom DeLay and later Chairman of the lobbying firm Alexander Strategy Group, appeared in Tony Rudy's guilty plea as “Lobbyist B.”
According to the plea, Buckham helped in routing $50,000 in payments to Rudy's wife's consulting firm – the money was to bribe Rudy for his help defeating a bill on behalf of Jack Abramoff's client.
The plea also states that Rudy worked to bring other congressional aides on a trip to the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in part to benefit Buckham. The CNMI was a client of Abramoff's, but he seems to have shared the CNMI with Buckham.
In January 2006 Buckham shut down his business. In June 2006 the Washington Post revealed this choice nugget:
A registered lobbyist opened a retirement account in the late 1990s for the wife of then-House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and contributed thousands of dollars to it while also paying her a salary to work for him from her home in Texas, according to sources, documents and DeLay's attorney, Richard Cullen.
The account represents a small portion of the income that DeLay's family received from entities at least partly controlled by lobbyist Edwin A. Buckham. But the disclosure of its origin adds to what was previously known about the benefits DeLay's family received from its association with Buckham, and it brings the total over the past seven years to about half a million dollars.
Since then…..nothing. No Buckham plea. No indictments. Nothing…..was a U.S. Attorney fired to prevent the investigation from continuing to inexorably close in on Tom DeLay?
Nope. But something very fishy did indeed take place. The lead investigator was given a Federal Judgeship, a new division chief with connections to the GOP machine was appointed (AND REPORTEDLY, TO THE DELAY DEFENSE TEAM ITSELF) and presto…no more momentum in the investigation.Only trial attorney Martin Garbus spoke up at the time, in two the Huffington Post. First:
President George W. Bush has not made many moves more unethical than offering Noel L. Hillman, the Abramoff prosecutor, a federal judgeship. Hillman has apparently been talking with Bush's representatives since last year, and on last Thursday, he publicly announced he was accepting the appointment.
Let me make this perfectly clear.
At the same time that Mr. Hillman was conducting a grand jury and submitting evidence aimed at Bush's allies and perhaps Bush himself, he was meeting with Bush, who was, in effect, offering him a bribe.
Mr. Hillman, Bush is saying, leave the job, let me put someone else in your stead, someone I want. Forget, says Mr. Bush, that you have been in charge of the investigation for two years, that you have been involved on a day-to-day basis, and that your leaving seriously impedes the investigation.
I do not personally know Mr. Hillman. Thus far, his public actions seem to warrant only applause. But Hillman's boss is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Neither has said a word about the offer and its acceptance. The public is entitled to know more.
But Bush is getting away with it. There's been very little press coverage. Alito, Hamas, Iraq, and Oprah Winfrey have buried the story.
The Democrats should insist on the appointment of a special prosecutor to fill Mr. Hillman's position. Attorney General Gonzales should not be permitted to designate Hillman's successor.
This, unlike the botched up Alito hearings, is a war we can win. We should not let Bush appoint his own person, someone like Harriet Miers, Samuel Alito, or the man Bush's father said was the best person qualified for a Supreme Court seat, Clarence Thomas.
And second he outlined the deal with Democrats that got Hillman his ill-gotten bench seat:
We now know there was a political deal between the Bush Administration and New Jersey Democrats to get rid of the Abramoff prosecutor, Noel Hillman, by offering him a federal judgeship in New Jersey.
It's a deal that had been in the making for over a year.
It came about this way. The Democrats wanted Magistrate Federal Judge Susan [Wigenton] to be a federal judge. The Bush Administration said no.
We also know that in 2002 Bush got rid of a prosecutor. U.S. Attorney Black, who was about to indict Abramoff in Guam. That indictment also related to Abramoff's purchasing of influence. It's the modus operandi of this administration. Bush got rid of him, put in his own man, and the Abramoff prosecution ended.
This year the Bush Administration agreed to give the Democrats who they wanted in exchange for the Democrats agreeing to remove the Abramoff prosecutor. Wingenton got her appointment; the Democrats agreed to the removal of Noel Hillman, and he accepted a judgeship.
Next we'll look at where the investigation has gone since Hillman was replaced. Hint: it's a long road to nowhere. If you can't wait, jump ahead to this Legal Times piece.