The Justice Department pulled the personal financial records of at least nine Members of Congress and at least seven former staffers last summer and fall, many of whom have been identified publicly as having links to ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In a stretch running from June to October, a pair of aides at Justice examined the financial disclosure forms of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio), as well as ex-staffers for three of those lawmakers, according to House and Senate records.
While Justice officials declined to comment, many of the financial searches appear to be connected to the continuing two-year probe of Abramoff’s dealings on Capitol Hill and with the Bush administration. In addition, the agency looked over the financial records of several lawmakers who have had no public connection to the investigation: Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), as well as Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa).
Aides to most of those lawmakers denied their bosses had any connection to the Abramoff probe, suggesting Justice must have been pulling their records for some other, unrelated reasons.
Abramoff pleaded guilty on Jan. 3 to orchestrating a bribery conspiracy that involved showering gifts, trips, campaign contributions and employment of relatives on Members of Congress and their staff in exchange for performing “official acts.”
Ney and his staff have been identified as those involved in the court documents related to Abramoff’s plea agreement, as has Tony Rudy, whom Abramoff accused of taking $50,000 in payments to his wife’s consulting firm in exchange for his efforts while DeLay’s deputy chief of staff in 2000 to help the lobbyist.
Both Ney’s and DeLay’s offices said Friday that they were not aware of Justice’s search of their financial records and reiterated their innocence in all dealings with Abramoff, vowing to cooperate with Justice’s multi-agency task force investigating the matter.
“We fully expect them to do an extremely thorough investigation and naturally public records like these will be something they'll want to review,” said DeLay spokesman Michael Connolly. “We have every expectation that when it’s completed they will find he has done nothing wrong.”
“We would have been happy to have saved them the trouble and sent those forms to them ourselves,” said Brian Walsh, Ney’s spokesman. “Congressman Ney has said from day one that he would assist in any way that he can and would welcome the opportunity to clear his name and set the record straight.”
Aides to Burns, who has repeatedly asked Justice and the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct an inquiry, welcomed the probe of his financial records by Justice staffers.
“This is good news for us, if the process has started,” said Jason Klindt, the campaign spokesman for Burns, who is facing a tough re-election battle this fall. “The sooner it’s reviewed, the sooner we can have his good name cleared.”