Wednesday, June 8, 2005

DeLay Update

Hey, how’s the investigation of Tom DeLay coming along? Well, funny you should ask…. From the New York Times:

Newly disclosed lobbying records and other documents show that the chairman of the House ethics committee, Doc Hastings, a Washington State Republican, has had a close relationship for years with lobbyists at the Seattle-based law firm that is at the center of ethics accusations involving Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.

The records from the law firm, Preston Gates & Ellis, show that the firm’s former star lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, a close friend of Mr. DeLay who is now the focus of a federal corruption investigation, boasted to a client in the mid-1990’s that the firm had “excellent” ties to Mr. Hastings. The firm repeatedly billed the client for meetings and telephone conversations between Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying team and Mr. Hastings’s staff.

The records do not show any direct contact between Mr. Hastings and Mr. Abramoff; the contacts were always with others in Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying operation. The billing records, which were obtained by The New York Times from the Northern Marianas government, do not show that Mr. Hastings introduced any legislation or cast any vote requested by Preston Gates.

But they do show that Preston Gates pressed Mr. Hastings and his staff several years ago for help on behalf of Mr. Abramoff’s most important lobbying client at the time, the government of the Northern Mariana Islands, a small American commonwealth in the Pacific, in blocking the imposition of the federal minimum wage on the islands’ clothing factories; human rights groups have long described the factories as sweatshops.

[…]

Ethics watchdog groups said they were surprised to learn of how closely and for how long Mr. Hastings and his staff had worked with Preston Gates, which reaped millions of dollars in fees from the Northern Marianas and other lobbying clients brought to the firm by Mr. Abramoff.

“This totally reaffirms the need for an outside counsel in the case against DeLay,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a group that has called on the ethics committee to appoint an outside investigator for the majority leader. “At a minimum there are several potential conflicts of interest here, given Representative Hastings’s relationship with both the law firm and, possibly, with Abramoff.”

Last month, two other Republican members of the ethics committee recused themselves from any investigation of Mr. DeLay because they had contributed to the majority leader’s legal defense fund.

Last week we learned that Abramoff was spreading his love all over Capitol Hill; to Democrats as well as Republicans. Is there anyone besides me who hasn’t wondered who Jack Abramoff didn’t try to buy off?