Abramoff Latest in String of Congressional Scandals
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff was in court again today, this time in Florida. He as there to plead guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud in the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. Yesterday, Abramoff entered guilty pleas to three other federal charges. He's agreed to cooperate in an investigation into corruption in Congress. For NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr, this story has been welcome news.
What a relief to be able to lay aside reading about the investigations of national security leaks and turn to the well-trampled ground of congressional sleaze. I have warm memories of corruption past. In the late '80s and early '90s, there were the Keating Five, five senators accused of helping Charles Keating, chairman of a collapsed savings and loan institution, avoid a searching investigation. The five senators had received a total of $1.3 million in campaign contributions from Keating.
There was ABSCAM in 1980, when the FBI set up a sting operation that caught on videotape a senator and five representatives receiving cash payments from a fictitious Middle Eastern businessman in return for political influence. That was the first major FBI operation against a member of Congress.
And now the biggest of the lot, superlobbyist Jack Abramoff and company, one after another copping a plea and probably more to come. A contrite Abramoff has reportedly said he is ready to name as many 60 members of Congress and staffers who have benefitted from his largesse, no doubt for value received. What is especially cheering about the Abramoff case is that it's being conducted by a Bush appointee, Alice Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal division. `The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive,' she said yesterday. `We're going to continue to follow it wherever it leads.' You can imagine the shudders on Capitol Hill.
Amid all the corruption in government, it's also cheering to find public servants who are willing to pursue their ethical standards even when their superiors may be involved. I'm reminded of Watergate, where President Nixon did not succeed in corrupting the FBI and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst ended up with a perjury conviction.
But as with Watergate, it is not only our prosecutors who deserve credit, but the much-maligned press. The story of Abramoff and company was brought to national attention in February 2004 by The Washington Post; the government investigation followed. Between them, the prosecutor and the press may make a contribution to clean government. This is Daniel Schorr.
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