Ney Expected to Plead Guilty in Abramoff Scandal

A Republican congressman linked to tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff is expected to plead guilty to at least one criminal charge. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio has been the focus of a Justice Department investigation for more than a year. A guilty plea could come as early as Friday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

An Ohio congressman linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal is expected to plead guilty to at least one criminal charge. The plea could come as early as today.

Republican Bob Ney has been the focus of a Justice Department investigation for more than a year. A guilty plea would make him the first member of Congress to admit to criminal charges in the Abramoff investigation.

NPR's Peter Overby has been following this story and joins me now. Good morning.

PETER OVERBY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Bob Ney has been proclaiming his innocence for many months. Why is he expected to plead guilty now?

OVERBY: Well, his lawyers have been talking with the Justice Department for many months. His involvement in the case has been known since last December. He started turning up - identified as Representative Number One - in plea bargain after plea bargain by other defendants. So it's not a surprise that he would be turning up like this. It seems like they've been going through dress rehearsals for indicting him for months.

MONTAGNE: Now this has been, Peter, a long and complicated investigation. Can you give us the simple version of the case against Congressman Ney?

OVERBY: The essence of it is that he allegedly was doing legislative favors for clients of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist, while Abramoff and his colleagues were doing favors for Bob Ney.

For instance, in 2002 Ney went on a golfing trip to Scotland with Abramoff. They took a chartered jet. It was a pretty lavish trip. And this past spring, Ney's own former chief of staff, Neil Volz, testified in the trial of one of the other people on the trip. Volz was the star witness for the prosecution and the defendant was convicted.

On the other side of the coin, we know that Ney at one point put in a provision in a bill to help a client of Abramoff's - an Indian tribe that was trying to get its gambling rights back. He tried to add this into the Help America Vote Act. And there are e-mails between Abramoff and one of his partners where Abramoff is elated that Ney is going to help them. And then when the deal falls apart, Abramoff is confused and angry that the deal didn't work out.

MONTAGNE: Bob Ney is one of several lawmakers under investigation in connection with the Jack Abramoff scandal - lobbying scandal. Who are the other members of Congress likely to face charges, if any?

OVERBY: We don't know who's likely to face charges. We know the names that have come up, come up repeatedly. Some of them are Senator Conrad Burns, who worked on legislation that helped Abramoff's Indian tribe clients. The issue has faded in Burn's reelection campaign. He's running for another term in the Senate, and the Abramoff connection has faded.

On the other hand, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay resigned from office partly because of pressure from this investigation. He and Abramoff, and one of Abramoff's partners, were tight.

MONTAGNE: And, Peter, want to give us the bigger picture as we head into midterm elections?

OVERBY: Yeah, the bigger picture is totally political. The corruption problem had faded for Republicans as a campaign issue. It had been big last spring when the plea bargains were coming fairly regularly, and over the summer it faded away. So one illustration is that there was going to be big ethics reform legislation last spring and it totally fizzled out. The last little remaining bit of it passed the House yesterday almost unnoticed.

Now if you have a 12-year member of Congress pleading guilty, that brings the issue back pretty vividly going into the midterms.

MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.

OVERBY: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Peter Overby.

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