- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The plea deal worked out by Jack Abramoff could send seismic waves across the political landscape in this congressional election year.

The Republicans, who control Congress and the White House, have more to lose, but some Democrats with links to Abramoff and his associates also are expected to be snagged in the influence-peddling net.

While the full dimensions of the corruption probe are not yet clear, some political consultants and analysts already are comparing its damage potential to the 1992 House banking scandal that led to the retirement or ouster of 77 lawmakers.

“You don’t have to be a political genius to sniff the smell of blood in the water,” said Republican consultant Rich Galen.

Mr. Galen said even lawmakers in seemingly safe districts, and those “who don’t have a reputation for being fast and loose with the rules,” could be vulnerable if voters rise up in reproach “and everybody drops five or six points” in this year’s midterm contests.

Abramoff, a former $100,000-plus fundraiser for President Bush with close ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud. That cleared the way for his cooperation with federal prosecutors in bringing charges against former business and political associates.

The investigation is thought to involve as many as 20 members of Congress and aides and possibly several administration officials.

The timing couldn’t be worse, politically, especially for Republicans. Lawmakers who may be indicted could find themselves coming to trial this summer, just ahead of the midterm elections. Around the same time, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is expected to stand trial in the CIA leak case.

Mr. DeLay, who had to step down as majority leader in September after a grand jury in Texas indicted him in a campaign-finance investigation, is awaiting a trial date. And former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, gave up his seat Dec. 1 after admitting he had accepted $2.4 billion in bribes from defense contractors.

Most Americans are convinced that corruption reaching into all levels of government is a deeply rooted problem. According to an AP-Ipsos poll last month, 88 percent of those polled say the problem is a serious one, with 51 percent calling it “very serious.”

The Democratic National Committee called the situation the latest installment of a Republican “culture of corruption.” That notion was disputed by White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who denounced Abramoff’s activities as “outrageous” and noted that the lobbyist and his clients contributed to both parties.

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