As the Jack Abramoff investigation inches closer to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), federal prosecutors have now secured plea agreements from the ex-lobbyist as well as two former aides to DeLay, shedding light on an alleged bribery conspiracy that ran far longer than previously reported.
In a largely overlooked element of the plea agreements, first Abramoff and now Tony Rudy both pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme that began in 1997 and ran through 2004, which suggests that the bribery of Members of Congress and their staffs began much earlier than has so far been publicly acknowledged.
Friday’s deal with Rudy — like the deals previously struck with Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, the former DeLay aide and Abramoff business partner — detailed a series of actions that occurred mostly in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Most of those details leaked out to reporters well before Rudy pleaded guilty.
But Rudy pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy that ran January “1997 and through 2004,” according to Friday’s court filings.
In interviews, defense attorneys in Washington, D.C., suggested that this phrasing was notable, saying that Rudy must have turned over bribery details covering those years to the Justice Department, even if the prosecutors have chosen not yet to reveal them publicly.
“Something illegal happened then,” said Stan Brand, an ethics lawyer at Brand and Frulla.
Abramoff’s plea agreement, which was entered into Jan. 3, also detailed many actions that took place from 2000 through 2002, most of which dealt with favors he sought from Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) in relation to Abramoff’s clients. But also buried in the so-called “criminal information” that accompanied the plea agreement is a section that spells out the “conspiracy and its objects.”
In Abramoff’s case, the crimes began “at least as early as 1997 through at least April 2004.” In late February 2004, The Washington Post had reported on the scandal and prompted the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Unit to begin a corruption probe of Abramoff and his deal-seeking on Capitol Hill.
The length of the conspiracy cited in Rudy’s plea agreement is also noteworthy because it includes the latter half of 2002 and all of 2003 and 2004. During those years, Rudy was no longer working for Abramoff and instead was employed by Alexander Strategy Group, the firm started by Ed Buckham, DeLay’s former chief of staff who was for the first time singled out in court filings in the Rudy plea agreement.
Now, though his crimes during that period are not spelled out, Rudy has pleaded guilty to committing bribery while working with Buckham, which draws the investigation deeper into DeLay’s world.
Buckham — who once served as DeLay’s minister — is considered the single closest adviser to the former Majority Leader. He is known as a close friend of Christine DeLay, the lawmaker’s wife and an employee of Buckham’s at ASG for more than a year. And he remained a central political player to DeLay, as the lawmaker’s Americans for a Republican Majority PAC was housed in the offices of Buckham’s lobbying firm.