Former DeLay Aide Pleads Guilty in Abramoff Inquiry
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. A top aide to former House majority leader Tom DeLay has pleaded guilty in the investigation involving convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Tony Rudy is the fourth person to plead and the first to admit taking money and gifts while working on Capitol Hill. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY reporting:
Rudy's plea hearing was hastily scheduled this morning at federal district court in Washington. Rudy, once a well-connected aide to a powerful lawmaker, came to court in a D.C. standard charcoal gray suit, white shirt and red striped tie. His shoulders sagged. He kept his hands clasped in front of him. His eyes had a look of exhaustion. And when Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle asked him how he pleaded, he answered weakly, guilty, Your Honor. Rudy pleaded guilty to just one count of conspiracy, but it's a conspiracy that covers several years, as Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor, points out.
Mr. RANDALL ELIASON (Former federal prosecutor): He is being charged with being on both sides of this pattern of corruption. The first part of his conduct was while he was a public official in the representative's office and taking the gifts and the bribes and doing official acts in exchange. And then after he leaves, he's on the other end of the transaction, paying people off who are still public officials.
OVERBY: And, as Eliason says, it takes the investigation to a new level.
Mr. ELIASON: What you can say about this plea is that it brings the corruption into DeLay's office, but it doesn't directly implicate him.
OVERBY: When Rudy worked for DeLay, DeLay was officially House majority whip, and unofficially building a power base that would trump the rest of the leadership. At the same time, Rudy admits that Abramoff's clients were funneling $86,000 through a nonprofit to a consulting firm owned by Rudy's wife, Lisa. The government says some of the money was for services not rendered.
Abramoff showered the Rudys with meals, sports tickets, golf clubs, all sorts of goodies. They flew to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Abramoff took Rudy to Pebble Beach, California for the 2000 U.S. Open. They used a private jet. Rudy's plea documents say that he got DeLay to sign a letter to the Bush administration opposing a postal rate hike. Rudy lobbied other members of Congress to support one of Abramoff's clients.
This afternoon, DeLay's lawyer, Richard Cullen, held a conference call with reporters. He said he gave prosecutors about 100 emails from DeLay's office pertaining to Abramoff. He also said prosecutors have never asked DeLay for anything, and Cullen himself hasn't talked with them since last fall. Cullen described DeLay as very disappointed that aides would be involved in conduct like this. But he said it doesn't touch DeLay personally.
Mr. RICHARD CULLEN (Attorney representing Tom DeLay): Mr. DeLay has never taken official position, written a letter urging action, or cast a vote that was not based on his principles.
OVERBY: Rudy left DeLay in 2000 and went to work for Abramoff. His plea agreement says that he helped solicit clients' money for Ohio congressman Bob Ney's Scottish golfing trip with Abramoff in 2002. Ney's spokesman issued a statement this afternoon. He noted that Rudy undercuts what Abramoff told his clients back in 2002, that Ney had asked for the trip. According to Ney's spokesman, Ney remains absolutely confident that he'll be exonerated.
Rudy's plea today also brings in another important player from Capitol Hill for the first time. According to the plea documents, some of the payments to Rudy's wife's firm were arranged through Ed Buckham. Buckham was a behind-the-scenes power on Capitol Hill. He was perhaps DeLay's closest deputy in his rise to power, an advisor in matters political and religious. Buckham left DeLay's office to found a firm called the Alexander Strategy Group, and Rudy went to work there in 2002. Last January, a few weeks after Abramoff pleaded guilty, Buckham closed down Alexander Strategy's lobbying shop. He and Rudy share a defense attorney. She wasn't commenting today.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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