Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Tuesday, October 24

Cong OH-14: Abramoff Probe Expansion Reported - Could LaTourette (R) Be Next?

The U.S. News & World Report indicated yesterday that the "FBI and Justice Department appear to be expanding their probe into the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal in hopes of nabbing another member of Congress and aides," acting on more information Abramoff and other scandal figures. "We thought it was wrapping up, but they've indicated that it is really about to expand," said one source involved in the case. "It's not ending anytime soon or even when he goes to jail."

No members of Congress are mentioned by name in the brief news item, but 14th Congressional District incumbent Steve LaTourette (R-Concord Township) is among those with reason to sweat, along with others such as Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT). LaTourette is in the mix because he was named in testimony by convicted former federal official David Safavian.

In brief, here is the story. LaTourette is a member of the powerful Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and was the Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management during the 107th and 108th Congress (2001-2005). That subcommittee has authority over the General Service Administation, which is in charge of federal property generally and the sale and leasing of federal land specifically.

Bush loyalist and former gambling lobbyist David Safavian was the chief of staff of the GSA from July 2002 to November 2003, when Bush appointed him administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. He was convicted in June 2006 of lying to a GSA ethics officer when he said that Abramoff was not seeking business with the agency at the time the lobbyist paid for Safavian and several others to go on a golf outing to Scotland in August 2002. At the time of the trip, Abramoff was trying to get GSA approval for leases of the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington for an Indian tribe to develop and for federal property in Maryland for use by a Jewish school. Safavian testified that he gave Abramoff tips on how to use members of Congress to navigate the agency's bureaucracy. As an apparent result of this schooling, LaTourette and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) signed a letter to GSA official Steve Perry in September 2002, urging the agency to give preferential treatment to disadvantaged business groups (under a program that would include Abramoff's Indian tribe clients) when evaluating development proposals for the Old Post Office.

The letter was actually written by Neil Volz, former associate of Abramoff and recently a staffer to disgraced Rep. Bob Ney (R-Heath), who last May pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the Abramoff investigation. (Ney, of course, became the first member of Congress convicted in the scandal when he pleaded guilty recently. Ney and LaTourette have close ties, as indicated by the fact that Ney was LaTourette's best man at his second wedding, i.e., to the lobbyist with whom he had previously carried on a clandestine affair.) In February 2006, LaTourette returned a $1000 contribution that he had received in October 2005 from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, an Abramoff client also linked to Volz. LaTourette claims that he did nothing improper by advocating special opportunities for disadvantaged businesses, and points out that the letter did not advocate any particular business over another.

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