It is not a slow news week. A lot has and is happening. It is easy for an important story to slide by quickly. That is just what happened in the last 24 hours.
On Tuesday, President Obama named Republican Senator Judd Gregg to be his Secretary of Commerce. Yesterday, it was reported that a former staffer of Senator Gregg is linked to the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal.
This story was buried in an avalanche of other news and missed by the posts and comments on Daily Kos. I guess I'll have to take care of that.
Judd Gregg brings the taint of the Abramoff Scandal with him to President Obama's Cabinet. Senator Gregg needs to answer some questions about Abramoff's influence on his staff and policy positions. The role of his staffers in this scandal must be explored in his Confirmation Hearings. Some hard questions should be asked and answered.
But more than that, we need a commitment from President Obama to fully investigate this ever expanding corruption scandal. We need a Special Prosecutor.
To the jump...
• dengre's diary :: ::
I know that President Obama wants to hear all points of view as he considers the important issues of our times. And yes, Senator Gregg is a very conservative Republican who would bring some interesting views to any discussion. I can see how a conservative voice in the Cabinet makes sense on a number of levels. I can also see how finding the right right-wing Republican would be a challenge. After all, their political philosophy has failed and their Party is almost synonymous with corruption. Perhaps it was Jack Abramoff who explained why this effort would be so hard when he told Vanity Fair in 2006:
"Any important Republican who comes out and says they didn't know me is almost certainly lying," he says. Such lies are not just, well, lies, but dumb to boot, he adds, for, as his own humiliations suggest, old e-mails never die; they just sit on hard drives, waiting to be subpoenaed and then to be leaked to the press. "This is not an age when you can run away from facts," he declares. "I had to deal with my records, and others will have to deal with theirs."
Senator Judd Gregg is somebody who needs to deal with that record. The connection between Abramoff and Senator Gregg's office need to be explore. Frankly, this is a bigger deal than back taxes.
Sure, there could be an explanation that puts Gregg in the clear. He could explain that he had no idea that a member of his staff was taking bribes. He could work the I know nothing defense. And it might be true.
It is possible that Judd Gregg is a terrible manager and failed to control his staff and his Senate Office. He might have completely missed that he employed rogue staffers who took bribes, traded on his name and inserted favorable earmarks and legislative changes for lobbyists like Abramoff under Gregg's signature. But if that is his defense, I would like to know how he will manage the Commerce Department. If that is his defense, I hope somebody competent is appointed to actually run the place-you know, the day to day management details that Gregg was unable to do with his Senate staff (a much smaller operation by the way). If this is the case, I'm fine with him being a conservative voice in the room as long as somebody else is actually running the Commerce Department.
On the other hand, if he did know what his staff was doing, that is another issue altogether. And as Jack reminds us: "old e-mails never die; they just sit on hard drives, waiting to be subpoenaed and then to be leaked to the press."
A few weeks ago I wrote about the status of the Abramoff Investigation as 2009 began. At that time, sixteen people-including Abramoff-have pleaded guilty in the scandal and were cooperating with the DOJ. Another two have been indicted. One is awaiting trial while the other was recently found guilty again in a retrial. Others, including Abramoff, have been indicted for crimes committed on the US Territory of Guam. And then there are some indictments on the Marianas Islands that may also prove to be related to corruption in Washington when they come to trial. And that is just what is known on the surface.
There are quite a few people identified in the Court documents related to these cases-some by title, some by action and some by both. It is not unusual for persons to be identified as "Representative #1", "Lobbyist B" or "Staffer F" in these documents. And once a person has been identified as such, it is not uncommon to see charges filed against them.
Since I wrote about the status of the Abramoff Investigation there have been other developments. Last week Todd Boulanger, a key player in the Abramoff Scandal, pleaded guilty. Before joining Team Abramoff, Boulanger worked for former NH Senator Bob Smith (one of Jack's go-to Senators-think Conrad Burns). Last year Boulanger was one of those Republican talking heads populating some cable TV shows. (TPM Muckraker did a great job framing Boulanger's hilarious pop-culture moment as the brunt of the joke in a clip from the Daily Show, but I digress).
When Boulanger pleaded guilty, the factual basis of the plea and a DOJ press release detailed his criminal activity as he moved around Capital Hill bribing staffers. The AP reported on the plea mentioning that two new staffers-"Staffer E' and "Staffer F"-were named and some details about their involvement in the scandal:
Todd Boulanger admitted to U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts that he provided tens of thousands of dollars worth of entertainment to Capitol Hill aides who could help him get legislation favorable to his clients. Sometimes, he said, he concealed their identities in expense reports to try to keep them from being exposed for violating gift bans. [snip]
Boulanger is a native of Manchester, N.H., and was for years an aide to former GOP Sen. Bob Smith from his home state. He left Capitol Hill to work with Abramoff, who is in prison and has cooperated with the Justice Department to help convict former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, several lobbyists and top Capitol Hill aides. [snip]