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Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Deal That Shook Washington



The Scanlon deal, which will be detailed more fully in court on Monday, isn't just any old agreement between a target and federal prosecutors.

In a town that is rife with rumor and innuendo over which shoe will be the next to drop, Michael Scanlon coming to an agreement with the Feds is sure to make more than a little ripple. This is a tidal wave of DC political possibilities, and it threatens knock out a lot of high powered lobbyists, politicians and deal makers.

Who is Michael Scanlon? He was Jack Abramoff's business partner from 2000 to 2004, and prior to joining Abramoff, he was Tom Delay's spokesperson when Delay was the Majority Whip in the House.

Scanlon has had connections and jobs with some of the most powerful Republicans in Washington, cruising among the former Young Republican set: friends with Abramoff (former Prez of the Young Republicans), hanging with Ralph Reed (another Young Rep. alum), chummy with Karl Rove (ditto)...and the list keeps going and going.
Before he hit his mid-thirties, Michael Scanlon played enough roles to fill a lifetime: lifeguard, press aide to a powerful congressman, multimillionaire public relations entrepreneur.

Now the sandy-haired, buttoned-down Republican -- author of e-mails detailing wildly brash schemes to make money in politics -- is likely to take a turn as a star witness for the prosecution in the Justice Department's investigation of lawmakers, lobbyists, Capitol Hill staffers and executive branch officials.
Well, don't know about you, but I like the sound of that. And Scanlon is only the first domino to topple in this long line. Abramoff's network had tentacles in every power-broker office in town, most of whom had ties to the big, the powerful, and the movers and shakers in the Republican party, with very few Democratic exceptions. This is one long, powerful line of dominoes in the crosshairs of the DoJ.

To start, the information which has been filed with the court (this is essentially a plea that is filed in lieu of indictment before a grand jury, see here for more), contains this:
The developments came after the prosecutors filed a "criminal information" in U.S. District Court, alleging that Scanlon conspired to "corruptly offer and provide things of value, including money, meals, trips and entertainment, to federal public officials in return for agreements to perform official acts" benefiting Scanlon and his lobbyist partner.

The partner is identified in the court documents only as Lobbyist A and is not facing charges. One government official told CNN that lobbyist is Abramoff.

Prosecutors also allege Scanlon was trying to "devise a scheme and artifice to defraud" lobbying clients.
What this means is that Scanlon worked out something in advance with the DoJ attorneys prosecuting this case, and to do so, he would have to have coughed up a whole lot of evidence and testimony, including:
Prosecutors also detail a "stream of things of value" given to an unnamed congressman, identified in the court documents as Representative No. 1, including a "lavish" trip to Scotland to play golf, tickets to sporting events, and campaign contributions to the representative and his political action committee in exchange for a series of actions by that representative.

In the court documents, prosecutors allege Scanlon and Lobbyist A, "together and separately, sought and received Representative No. 1's agreement to perform a series of official acts, including but not limited to agreements to support and pass legislation, ... meetings with Lobbyist A and Scanlon's clients, and advancing the application of a client of Lobbyist A for a license to install wireless telephone infrastructure into the House of Representatives."....

"It was a purpose of the conspiracy for Scanlon and Lobbyist A to enrich themselves by obtaining substantial funds from their clients through fraud and concealment and through obtaining benefits for their clients through corrupt means," the complaint states.
That is a long period of time, encompassing a vast array of deals, skybox tickets, restaurant meetings and more. (Josh Marshall has been all over this, btw, and this article is a great example.)

The DoJ attorneys working this case are from the Public Integrity section -- they prosecute bribery, corruption and otehr political crime issues -- and they are getting some well-deserved attention in a high-profile case like this. This is a tough job, one that gets pressure from all sides as the politically powerful and the money machine try to squeeze as close to the line as they can on a daily basis, with the DoJ trying to push them back the other way.

What does this mean in terms of reach -- how far up could this particular scandal go?
Scholars who specialize in the history and operations of Congress say that given the brazenness of Mr. Abramoff's lobbying efforts, as measured by the huge fees he charged clients and the extravagant gifts he showered on friends on Capitol Hill, almost all of them Republicans, the investigation could end up costing several lawmakers their careers, if not their freedom.

The investigation threatens to ensnarl many outside Congress as well, including Interior Department officials and others in the Bush administration who were courted by Mr. Abramoff on behalf of the Indian tribe casinos that were his most lucrative clients.

The inquiry has already reached into the White House; a White House budget official, David H. Safavian, resigned only days before his arrest in September on charges of lying to investigators about his business ties to Mr. Abramoff, a former lobbying partner.

"I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century," said Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional specialist at the Brookings Institution. "I've been around Washington for 35 years, watching Congress, and I've never seen anything approaching Abramoff for cynicism and chutzpah in proposing quid pro quos to members of Congress."
Pretty high up, I'd say. Leadership in Congress has to be sweating this weekend. And when you couple this pressure with that from Pat Fitzgerald's open investigation, the indictment of Delay, the previous indictment of Jack Abramoff, and the political climate in a government whose President is inching toward a 34% and below level of approval...well, that's one hell of a lot of dominoes, just itching to topple.

The question is, how many of the folks involved (almost all of whom are Republicans) in all of this are going to wait for someone else to be responsible for toppling them...or are they going to race to volunteer to be the first domino in line, just so they can try and control the way they fall.

We live in interesting times. Now pass the popcorn.

UPDATE: I've gotten some questions on who might be involved with all of this. This older TPM Cafe post might shed a bit of light -- this was from earlier in the year when the investigation into Abramoff was ongoing, and information about his Signatures Restaurant and its repeat political patrons started breaking in the news. Additionally, this captured NYTimes article on the subject adds more details, and is an enlightening read if you haven't been following this scandal. (Hat tip to CREW for saving this article on their website.) And as I said above, Josh Marshall has been doing a yeoman's work on this topic. TPM is an excellent resource on a lot of the gory details.

UPDATE #2: And just for fun this morning, this Atrios bit is hilarious. Mwahahahaha!!! (Okay, so it's afternoon. Clearly, I needed more sleep today. Ooops.)

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