Video: Bribery probe lobbyist in negotiations

By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/21/2005 7:54:58 PM ET 2005-12-22T00:54:58

Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is now a potential time bomb for leading members of Congress whom he used to wine and dine. Facing trial next month on unrelated fraud charges in Miami, government officials say Abramoff is negotiating with federal prosecutors.

Abramoff and his lawyers refused to comment Wednesday.

The deal offered, say people close to the case: Abramoff would plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence — if he talks about his Washington connections, including former majority leader Tom Delay, R-Texas.

That’s potentially bad news for leading members of Congress and executive branch officials, says former federal prosecutor David Schertler.  “You're not just looking at one or two people,” Schertler says. “I think that what the federal prosecutors are looking at is a pattern that would involve a larger number of people.”

Prosecutors want to know more about DeLay’s ties to Abramoff, who allegedly paid for a golf outing with DeLay to Scotland's legendary St. Andrews in 2000 and to Russia in 1997, at a total cost of $127,000.

Also under scrutiny: Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney, who placed two speeches in the congressional record supporting Abramoff's business interests — and took a 2002 golfing trip to Scotland with Abramoff.  Ney, who has not been charged, says he was tricked by Abramoff.

The pressure on Abramoff has been growing.  Last week his Miami fraud case co-defendant, Adam Kidan, agreed to testify against him.

That follows a guilty plea in November by Michael Scanlon, another Abramoff associate. After his plea, when Scanlon was ask what he was going to do now, he replied, "I really don't have anything at this moment, but you guys will be seeing me around."

As the investigation widens, members of Congress are also feeling the heat.  Last week, both Montana Sens. Conrad Burns and Max Baucus felt compelled to return Abramoff-related campaign contributions — Burns returning an estimated $150,000, Baucus almost $19,000.

Campaign finance expert Thomas Mann says there could be a lot of damage to Congress if a lot of indictments come of this investigation. "Many," Mann says, "are still nervous in getting caught up in what could be the biggest congressional scandal story in a century or more."

Though most of Abramoff's powerful connections were Republicans, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 79 percent of those polled said they think corruption and illegal activities are a problem for both parties.

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