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Abramoff, MZM Scandals Still Threaten GOP

December 1, 2008

Over the past two election cycles, the Republican Party in Congress has been decimated thanks in part to its myriad scandals and the accompanying stench of corruption. But recent developments in the Abramoff affair and the unfolding drama of crooked defense contractor MZM suggest the body count is not yet complete for the GOP. For Democrats, Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham bagman Mitchell Wade remain the gifts that keep on giving.
The Abramoff imbroglio, which to date has featured 15 defendants in prison or awaiting trial, claimed another Republican staffer just before the holiday break. Trevor Blackann, a former legislative aide to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), pled guilty to making false statements regarding gifts from lobbyists on his 2003 tax return.
While Abramoff will remain behind bars until 2012, he may soon have more company. Last week, two more of his colleagues lost their jobs after federal investigators revealed their roles in recently filed court papers. James Hirni, who once worked for former Republican Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN), was fired from his position as director of Republican outreach for Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, one-time Bob Smith (R-NH) aide Todd Boulanger resigned from the law firm of Cassidy & Associates, where he, Hirni and Abramoff had all moved in 2004. As the AP reported:

Boulanger has not been identified by name in court but appeared as "Lobbyist D" in the court papers outlining the charges against Hirni on Friday. He and Hirni both also figured as unnamed lobbyists in court papers Thursday as another former legislative aide, Trevor Blackann, pleaded guilty to hiding thousands of dollars of gifts from them.

According to court papers, Hirni indicated he will plead guilty to fraud charges which include helping to get an all-expenses-paid trip to Game One of the 2003 World Series for two congressional aides.
(As for John McCain, his defeat in November has apparently squelched for now the allegations that his Senate panel concealed Abramoff emails which might have revealed "actions to benefit his political contributors...similar to the very misdeeds he accused Abramoff of committing.")
Meanwhile, a key player in the bribery scandal that consumed Duke Cunningham is now threatening to bring down other Republicans in Congress past and present. MZM's Mitchell Wade, who along with Brent Wilkes showered $2.4 million in cash and gifts on Cunningham, is now assisting the government in investigating five other members of Congress, numerous government employees and several private contractors.
Wade, who will be sentenced on December 15th to at least nine years in prison, has provided "a searchable electronic database of 150,000 documents, including the 'bribe menu,' which described how much money Cunningham wanted for each act that he undertook." According to an internal MZM document obtained by blogger Seth Hettena, Wade's tentacles extended throughout both parties in Congress:

On a page entitled "Election Impact on Congressional Mandates," Wade wrote listed a number of politicians. The list included Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Duncan Hunter, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Speaker Denny Hastert, Jerry Lewis, Allan Mollohan, John Murtha, David Weldon, and Bill Young; Senators Robert Byrd, Larry Craig, Orin Hatch, Daniel Inouye, Trent Lott, Jay Rockefeller, and Richard Shelby.

As Politico reported on Friday, Wade gave the Justice Department information on five members of Congress:

In addition to pleading guilty to bribing Cunningham, Wade has admitted to funneling $78,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) and former Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), as well as steering gifts to Defense Department employees in an effort to get them to help his company, MZM Inc. Wade paid a $1 million [fine] to the Federal Election Commission over these improper contributions. There is no evidence that Harris or Goode, who lost re-election bids in 2006 and 2008 respectively, engaged in any illegal behavior in response to the contributions, according to DOJ.

Whether Wade's revelations lead to new charges against any Capitol Hill Republicans past or present remains to be seen. Katherine Harris, for example, received $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Wade's firm. In March 2006, the Washington Post reported that Harris in 2005 requested $10 million in funding for a Navy intelligence program in her district at Wade's urging. And as the San Diego Union Tribune detailed in February 2006, Wade's fellow Cunningham convict Brent Wilkes helped direct tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to Republicans Tom Delay, Jerry Lewis, Tom Doolittle and Duncan Hunter.
So as beaten and battered Congressional Republicans prepare to head off for the holiday break, they are still haunted by the ghosts of their Christmas past. And with more indictments potentially in the offing, Jack Abramoff and Mitchell Wade are still the gifts that keep on giving for Democrats.
UPDATE: Seth Hettena has an update, including news that Wade's Congressional Fab Five is bipartisan and includes Katherine Harris (R-FL), Virgil Goode (R-VA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV).


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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