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Abramoff to Appear in Miami Court

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

There may be prison time in Jack Abramoff's future. The Republican lobbyist struck a deal with prosecutors and yesterday pleaded guilty in Washington, DC, to federal charges of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. Today, he'll appear in a Miami court where he's expected to enter a guilty plea on separate charges of fraud and conspiracy. Jack Abramoff was at the center of a web of political influence. Now he's agreed to help prosecutors whose attention is turning to public officials with connections to Abramoff. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

For more than a year, Abramoff has been the target of an ongoing Justice Department's investigation. Now, says Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, he's going to help the investigators.

Ms. ALICE FISHER (Assistant Attorney General, Justice Department): Abramoff has agreed to cooperate in the ongoing public corruption probe led by the Department of Justice.

SHAPIRO: And that has to have people on Capitol Hill worried, says former federal prosecutor Josh Berman.

Mr. JOSH BERMAN (Former Federal Prosecutor): There are folks from the top of the food chain on the Hill to the bottom of the food chain wondering when they e-mailed with Abramoff, when they've had phone calls with him, what the cell phone records are showing, when they dined with him, when they golfed with him, when they had coffee with him, who else he touched in the lobbying world that they dealt with.

SHAPIRO: Berman used to work in the Justice Department's public integrity section, which is handling this case. He considers Abramoff to be the goose that lays golden eggs in this investigation.

Mr. BERMAN: He is a dream for the prosecutors because he is going to be able to talk about the lobbyists. He's going to be able to talk about the business deals. He's going to be able to talk about the congresspeople and their staffers. He is going to be in the center with spokes going out in every direction.

SHAPIRO: At yesterday's Justice Department news conference, Assistant Attorney General Fisher described some of the high level connections that Abramoff milked in his lobbying business. She said he gave politicians and their staffers expensive gifts and expected favorable treatment in return.

Ms. FISHER: Abramoff provided these things of value with the intent and often with the understanding that his clients would receive the official action they wanted. As admitted by Abramoff, his actions often produced the official influence that he sought.

SHAPIRO: The plea deal describes one of those relationships. A politician identified as Representative #1 received free trips, Super Bowl tickets and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. In return, Representative 1 pushed legislation favorable to one of Abramoff's clients and he helped another Abramoff client secure a contract for wireless phone service in the House of Representatives. Representative 1 is Republican Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee.

Yesterday, Ney said, `At the time I dealt with Jack Abramoff, I obviously did not know, and had no way of knowing, the self-serving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff's activities.' But Ney is hardly the only politician Abramoff touched. Abramoff gave money to many members of Congress. Stan Brand is a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, DC, who used to be counsel to the House of Representatives. He believes this investigation will lead to criminal charges on a large scale.

Mr. STAN BRAND (Criminal Defense Lawyer): There won't be one scapegoat because you've got 40 lawyers and FBI agents investigating this and a task force with others. I would expect multiple members of Congress, anywhere from six to 10, perhaps as many high-level staff and perhaps half a dozen or so appointed officials, as well.

SHAPIRO: Brand says scandals like this one are, unfortunately, a cyclical part of the Washington landscape.

Mr. BRAND: This is certainly a big one by magnitude given the amount of money involved and the number of officials. Unfortunately, it is part and parcel of the political process.

SHAPIRO: A judge could sentence Abramoff to 30 years in prison, though prosecutors plan to ask for no more than 11. When Abramoff appeared in court yesterday, he told the judge, `Words will not be able to ever express how sorry I am for this, and I have profound regret and sorrow for the multitude of mistakes and harm I have caused.' Now he'll have an opportunity to show his remorse by helping prosecutors catch his former associates.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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