- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

The National Republican Senatorial Committee said yesterday that almost all Senate Democrats have accepted money from scandal-plagued lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his associates or his Indian tribe clients.

“I think Democrats might want to be a little bit careful before they start pointing fingers,” said Sean Spicer, spokesman for the House Republican Conference. “This is something that has ensnared both parties.”

The Senate campaign committee said 39 of the Senate’s 44 Democrats, plus Democrat-leaning independent James M. Jeffords of Vermont, have taken funds from Abramoff, directly or indirectly.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres said Republicans hope Democrats will be equally ensnared in the fallout to Abramoff’s admission to purchasing support from lawmakers for his clients’ initiatives.

The five Democrats excluded from the NRSC’s list are Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey.

But Democrats say their counterparts are distorting the facts.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has distributed to her party’s members a talking-points memo that stresses that every person indicted in the scandal is a Republican, every potential indictee in published reports is a Republican and that Abramoff directly contributed only to Republicans.

Meanwhile, the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, whom the NRSC highlighted as a recipient of considerable Abramoff-related money, scoffed.

Mr. Reid received money from Indian tribes connected to Abramoff, but never from the lobbyist, said Jim Manley, the senator’s spokesman.

“Any contributions he received are part of lawful fundraising. Senator Reid has done nothing wrong,” said Mr. Manley, adding that not “a single Democrat” took money directly from Abramoff.

“Abramoff was a Republican operative, and this is a Republican scandal. Their efforts to drag Democrats into this are almost laughable,” he said.

Both Republicans and Democrats have been the beneficiaries of Abramoff’s lobbying activities. But the scandal threatens to shake up the Republican leadership that controls the Capitol.

Some say it will make it more difficult for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, to return to his post. Mr. DeLay, whose connection to Abramoff also is at issue, was indicted last year in a separate Texas case, and has vacated his leadership post pending resolution of the matter.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said the Abramoff scandal likely will lead more Republicans to call for leadership elections.

“I expect that number to grow quickly,” said Mr. Flake, one of a handful of lawmakers who have called for such a vote. “The Abramoff stuff to me and to most people is much more dangerous, much more costly to the party than the Texas indictment.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Republicans must undertake real reform in business, government and congressional conduct to keep their majority.

“The danger for Republicans is to pretend this isn’t fundamental or to pretend they can get by passively, without undertaking real reform,” the Georgia Republican told reporters after a speech to the Rotary Club at the Hotel Washington yesterday.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, promised yesterday to “examine and act on any necessary changes to improve transparency and accountability for our body when it comes to lobbying.”

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, said the judicial system needs to be left alone to do its job. Mr. Hastert is giving to charity the Abramoff-related donations he received.

Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty this week to tax evasion, conspiracy and mail fraud and agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into influence peddling on Capitol Hill. He admitted to providing campaign contributions and lavish gifts in exchange for official acts.

“Everyone is definitely holding their breath, some more than others,” said one House Republican aide. The aide said numerous offices are going through their financial records to ensure they don’t have any money connected to Abramoff.

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Administration Committee, is specifically mentioned in court documents as having received gifts in exchange for support on various issues.

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