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April 03, 2006

Abramoff/DeLay Corruption Update

A few days ago, we left the escalating Republican corruption scandal with DeLay press secretary, Emily Miller, turning on her former fiance, Mark Scanlon, and talking to federal prosecutors about what he'd done to build up an enormous pile of money while helping Abramoff clients get legislation through Congress favorable to their interests. 

In today's installment we find out a little about their other buddy, Tony Rudy, and Ed Buckham, whom we haven't heard much about yet but probably will soon. Rudy was deputy chief of staff for Tom DeLay and then a close associate of Jack Abramoff's at Greenberg Traurig, the consulting firm that Abramoff operated out of most recently.  Ed Buckham is head of another major lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, and also the person who ran DeLay's U.S. Family Network, the non-profit that collected money from Abramoff's clients but didn't disperse the money they raised to charity.

Tony Rudy pled guilty a week ago to conspiracy and is likely to implicate Abramoff and also Mr. Buckham. Here is how Rudy's role in the K-Street Project has been described by the folks over at the TPM Muckraker, a great new site dedicated to unearthing Republican corruption:

One Republican close to DeLay's operation who asked not to be identified called Rudy "the implementer," a practical, no-nonsense aide who made sure the Texas Republican's political vision became reality.

Buckham was also knee-deep in the corruption of the K Street Project, along with Mark Scanlon and Tony Rudy.  He was the lobbyist for Brent Wilkes, one of the two contractors identified in the Duke Cunningham scandal. He also seems to have perfected a new technique of routing money to Republican Congressionmen and their aides through paying off their wives.  But the issue that is most likely to take both he and Tom DeLay down is related to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and this is what federal prosecutors seem most interested in.   

The Northern Mariana Islands are best known for sweatshops that produce clothing with "Made in USA" label.  Never mind that the owners are wealthy Chinese and the sweatshops have no worker protection.  During the mid-90's the CNMI government was paying Jack Abramoff, when he was working at Preston Gates & Ellis, to make sure that Tom DeLay kept Congress from imposing minimum-wage increases for the workers. 

But the glitch occurred in late 1998 when a new governor was elected in the  CNMI.  Abramoff and Preston Gates lost their lucrative lobbying contract. 

And at the same time, Frank Murkowski, who was then Senator from Alaska and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which had jurisdiction, somehow got angry at the sweatshop conditions.  Here was his position as stated by CNN:

Moved by the sworn testimony of U.S. officials and human-rights advocates that the 91 percent of the workforce who were immigrants -- from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed, Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas.

So compelling was the case for change the Alaska Republican marshaled that in early 2000, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Murkowski worker reform bill.

The Abramoff/DeLay team swung into action to protect their interests. According to law firm records, lobbyist Jack Abramoff met personally with Tom DeLay at least two dozen times on this subject.  DeLay stopped the U.S. House from even considering the Murkowski's worker-reform bill.  Mike Scanlon and Ed Buckham traveled to the CNMI in late 1999 to persuade two legislators to switch their votes for speaker of the CNMI House of Representatives.  The new speaker, Ben Fitial, immediately pressed the island's governmor to reinstate the lobbying contract with Abramoff. 

Within months, Preston Gates had a contract paying $100,000 a month from the CNMI and the House Appropriations Committee, on which DeLay served, approved large contracts for Marianas construction projects.  Mr. Fitial also met shortly afterwards with officials in the new Bush Administation and key Republican leaders in Congress, Tom DeLay and Conrad Burns to discuss appropriations for key infrastructure projects and issues about labor reforms.   

Fast forward to today.  From a diary at DailyKos by dengre, who has done some excellent research on the subject, we have this:

Ben Fitial is now Governor of CNMI. Back in December it was reported that Ben is cooperating with the Feds. In March he cancelled a trip to DC for the US Governor's conference to avoid testifying before a Senate panel. If Ben is truly cooperating, DeLay is toast. If not, Ben is toast. Either way things are very bad for DeLay.

From the day Fitial became Speaker of the CNMI House to today, CNMI has been lavished with attentions and appropriations. The islands of Rota and Tinian have new airports. The Tan Family is using those airports to shift their business on CNMI from sweatshops to tourism for the new rich of Chine (they can travel to CNMI without a visa, ya know). And the US Marines are leaving Okinawa, Japan and coming to Tinian. (I guess the displace sweatshop workers can find new work in the booming CNMI sex trade).

The bribes are hidden in the Bills and appropriations DeLay and his team pushed through Congress. The bribes are hidden in the work of the Bush White House to look the other way and wink at certain payoffs. The testimony and filings related to the trial of David Safavian will be very interesting.

And that, folks, is how the K-Street Project works and why it is so important to begin dismantling it, whether through the federal prosecutors or at the election box or both.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 3, 2006 at 11:54 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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