In addition, DOJ officials examined the records of two former top staffers to Burns: Will Brooke, who was Burns’ chief of staff from 2001 to 2003, when he went to work for Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig just before the scandal broke; and Shawn Vasell, who worked for Abramoff at two firms and subsequently worked for Burns as his state director before returning to Abramoff’s fold at Greenberg Traurig in 2003.
The agency also appeared to be interested in the finances of another former Burns staffer, Ryan Thomas, who was one of the Senator’s top aides on the Interior appropriations subcommittee. On Oct. 25, when a DOJ staffer examined the records of Burns, Brooke and Vasell, he also looked at the financial disclosure forms of someone named Ryan Thompson.
This may have been an error, since Thompson works for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has had no public connection to the Abramoff scandal to date. It’s possible the DOJ staffer meant to examine the files of Thomas.
Thomas and Brooke were flown by Abramoff to the January 2001 Super Bowl in Florida, where, in addition to attending the game, they were ferried to Abramoff’s Sun Cruz casino, which has been at the heart of a separate but related investigation by federal prosecutors in the Sunshine State.
Searching the financial disclosure forms of these lawmakers and ex-staffers is likely part of Justice’s efforts to match up actual “things of value,” as they are known in legal terms, with so-called “official acts.” While campaign contributions can be a part of an indictment against lawmakers and staff, Justice has usually shied away from bringing corruption cases unless they can show that politicians were actually receiving things of cash value for their own personal use.
Also on that Super Bowl trip was Tim Berry, who was a DeLay floor aide when the Texan was House Majority Whip. Berry went on to become chief of staff before leaving the office last year to lobby for Time Warner.
In addition to DeLay’s financial records, Justice perused Berry’s finances from 1999 through 2004, according to records on file at the House Legislative Resources Center. On the same day Justice pulled Berry’s files, the aide also explored Rudy’s finances for 1999 and 2000.
According to Abramoff’s plea agreement, in those two years the lobbyist funneled $50,000 to Lisa Rudy through one of the many nonprofit groups he exerted control over, while during the same period Tony Rudy worked to kill a pair of provisions that Abramoff’s clients needed tabled.
For DeLay, the Justice Department only explored one year’s worth of his financial disclosure forms, 2000, according to House records. That was the year in which DeLay went to Scotland with Abramoff, where they golfed the legendary Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews. Two years later, Abramoff returned to St. Andrews on a controversial trip with Ney and David Safavian, a former White House official now under federal indictment for allegedly lying to investigators regarding the 2002 Scotland trip.
In addition, 2000 was one of the years that DeLay’s wife, Christine, was on the payroll at the firm Alexander Strategy Group, which was run by DeLay’s former chief of staff, Ed Buckham, a close ally of Abramoff’s.