Safavian Guilty

June 21, 2006

From The Washington Post:

David H. Safavian, a former Bush administration official with close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, was found guilty today in federal court of four of five felony charges against him in connection with the Abramoff corruption and influence-peddling scandal.

The verdict was announced shortly after the jury of two men and 10 women began their fifth day of deliberations in Washington following the trial of Safavian on charges of making false statements to federal officials and obstruction of justice.

Safavian, 38, a former chief of staff of the General Services Administration and top federal procurement officer, was accused of lying about a 2002 golfing trip to Scotland with Abramoff and obstructing an investigation by the GSA inspector general and other investigators. He was also charged with concealing his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area.

He became the first person to be put on trial in connection with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to fraud and conspiracy charges. Four other former Abramoff associates also have pleaded guilty so far. As part of their plea deals, they have agreed to cooperate in an investigation of Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers allegedly embroiled in a broad public corruption scandal involving the acceptance of various inducements in return for official acts. Ney denies any wrongdoing.

The jury found Safavian guilty of three counts of making false statements — to the GSA Office of Inspector General, a GSA ethics official and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee — and one count of obstructing the GSA inspector general's investigation. He was acquitted of another charge of obstructing an investigation by the Indian Affairs Committee.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Safavian thus faces up to 20 years in prison for the four counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12 by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman.

Safavian, an Iranian American from Detroit, worked with Abramoff at a Washington lobbying firm in the 1990s, representing the Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe among other clients. In 1997, he formed an ideologically conservative lobbying group with Grover Norquist, a leading anti-tax lobbyist and prominent Republican activist.

Safavian became chief of staff of the GSA, the federal government's property management agency, in 2002. The following year, President Bush nominated him to be administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget in the White House. He began that job in November 2004.

Safavian resigned from the post last September and was placed under arrest after a federal grand jury returned an indictment against him.

The charges against Safavian stemmed from a federal probe that originally focused on Abramoff's dealings with Indian tribes, which brought Abramoff and an associate at least $82 million in fees. The investigation by an interagency federal task force turned up a trove of information about Abramoff's aggressive efforts to obtain favors for clients from members of Congress and top Bush administration bureaucrats.

One such endeavor, an August 2002 trip by chartered jet to Scotland, included golf at the Old Course at St. Andrews and other historic courses. Safavian, then the GSA's chief of staff, was one of nine people, including Abramoff, who went on the trip. Among the others were Ney, then chairman of the House Administration Committee; Ralph Reed, a lobbyist and former leader of the Christian Coalition; and Neil G. Volz, a lobbying associate of Abramoff's who formerly worked on Ney's staff. The total cost of the trip came to more than $130,000.

In keeping with GSA rules that prohibit the receipt of a gift from any person seeking official action by the agency, Safavian assured a GSA ethics officer in writing that Abramoff had "no business before GSA" at the time of the trip. Based on that pledge, Safavian was given permission to go on the trip.

However, according to the indictment, Abramoff by then had repeatedly contacted Safavian about the possibility of leasing the Old Post Office, a century-old Washington building managed by the GSA, for his clients. Abramoff also had secretly enlisted Safavian in an effort to acquire 40 acres of land on the site of the GSA-managed Naval Surface Warfare Center – White Oak, a 600-acre property in Silver Spring, Md. Abramoff wanted the land to use as a campus for a Hebrew school he had founded.

According to a criminal complaint, Safavian lied about his contacts with Abramoff on three occasions after his initial false statement to the GSA ethics officer about the trip to Scotland.

In addition to Abramoff, the former associates who have pleaded guilty so far in the corruption probe are Volz, Adam Kidan, Michael Scanlon and Tony C. Rudy. Kidan was Abramoff's partner in a Florida casino cruise ship company that was purchased with the help of a fraudulently obtained bank loan. Scanlon and Rudy are lobbying associates who formerly worked for Tom DeLay, the once-powerful Republican congressman from Texas and former House majority leader who left office June 9.

DeLay, who was enlisted by Abramoff to help defeat efforts to rein in labor and human rights abuses in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a former Abramoff client, was indicted last year in Texas in a separate case involving the alleged laundering of political contributions. DeLay has denied the charges.


Another Nail In DeLay’s Coffin

May 7, 2006

From Raw Story:

Prosecutors have e-mails showing Rep. Tom DeLay's office knew lobbyist Jack Abramoff had arranged the financing for the GOP leader's controversial European golfing trip in 2000 and was concerned "if someone starts asking questions."

House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting free trips from lobbyists. DeLay, R-Texas, reported to Congress that a Republican advocacy group had paid for the spring 2000 trip that DeLay, his wife and top aides took to Scotland and England.

The e-mails obtained by The Associated Press show DeLay's staff asked Abramoff — not the advocacy group — to account for the costs that had to be legally disclosed on congressional travel forms. DeLay's office was worried the group being cited as paying the costs might not even know about them, the e-mails state.

Abramoff's team sought to low-ball the cost estimates and DeLay's office ultimately reported to Congress a total that was a few thousand dollars lower than the one the lobbyist provided, the documents show.

"We should give them the most minimal numbers for cost of the hotel (do not include golf), food and plays," Abramoff wrote two assistants at his Preston Gates lobbying firm in an e-mail from June 29, 2000. One of those assistants, Susan Ralston, now works for top White House adviser Karl Rove.

In a follow-up e-mail to Abramoff, Ralston reported she talked to DeLay's then-deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, who suggested numbers that could be used as cost figures on the congressional travel report. Rudy had gone on the trip with his boss.

"Tony said: $6,800 for flights per person. $300 per night for hotel, $120 per day per person for meals, $500 per day for transportation," Ralston wrote Abramoff. Abramoff's credit card bill shows some costs were higher.

Federal prosecutors have secured the cooperation of Abramoff and Rudy, and are investigating whether DeLay filed false public reports to disguise the source and size of political donations, travel and other gifts he received from special interests. Several witnesses have been questioned in recent months about the Scotland trip e-mails.

DeLay's lawyer said Friday he believes the congressman's office asked Abramoff, instead of the GOP group, for the trip costs because the group's top executive was on maternity leave. He noted Abramoff served as director for the group listed as paying for the trip.

"The way I read this was that staff was trying to get it right," lawyer Richard Cullen said of the e-mails. "His (DeLay's) goal and his marching orders to his staff was to do it correctly. And I think staff tried to do it correctly."

An expert on federal disclosure reports said the e-mails raise serious questions about whether DeLay's office filed a false report.

"It clearly shows some members live in a dream world of high-class living and fictional accounting. DeLay's office was part of the public deception. It makes you wonder if there are more filings as fictional as this one is turning out to be," said Kent Cooper, the former chief of public disclosure for the Federal Election Commission.

Abramoff's lawyers declined comment.

It was first disclosed more than a year ago that Abramoff arranged for two clients to pick up most of the costs for the trip and to route the money to the National Center for Public Policy Research listed in the travel reports as the sponsor.

Abramoff's credit card bills show the lobbyist initially charged tens of thousands of dollars in air fare for DeLay's trip to his American Express card. Cullen said he believes the lobbyist consulted with an ethics expert before making the payments.

The trip, which included golf at the famous St. Andrew's professional course, and others like it have become symbols of Abramoff's largesse to lawmakers and a focal point of the criminal investigation into influence peddling on Capitol Hill.

DeLay has steadfastly maintained he believed that the center paid for the trip as he reported.

The e-mails show that when DeLay's office began preparing the required disclosure reports for the free trip, his aides asked Abramoff's lobbying firm for the cost figures instead of the GOP group.

"Our financial disclosure forms from the England/Scotland trip are due tomorrow afternoon. … I would appreciate if you would send me your information," a DeLay aide wrote Abramoff's firm.

The e-mails show Abramoff's team provided then-DeLay chief of staff Susan Hirschmann a final cost figure of $75,600 for the weeklong European trip taken by DeLay; his wife, Christine; Hirschmann; Hirschmann's husband; and Rudy.

The e-mails stated DeLay's office could attribute the figures to "the final bookkeeping efforts" by the GOP group. Despite the figure from Abramoff, DeLay's report to Congress put the cost lower, at just over $70,000.

Ralston wrote she had a follow-up conversation with DeLay's office. Hirschmann wanted "a name" of someone at the GOP group who would attest to paying for the trip and was concerned whether the center's executive director, Amy Ridenour, knew about the costs.

"She (Hirschmann) just wants to make sure that if someone starts asking questions that Amy Ridenour knows about these s," Ralston wrote.

Hirschmann did not return a call to her office Friday and an e-mail message seeking comment.

The documents show Abramoff initially put the airfare for the DeLay trip on his American Express credit card and arranged for two clients — the Mississippi Choctaw tribe and eLottery — to route money to Ridenour's GOP policy group to cover the cost.

DeLay's lawyer said despite the discrepancy in cost figures and the evidence Abramoff initially paid for the airfare on his credit card, DeLay has no plans to change his travel report to Congress. "I think the report was made in good faith," the lawyer said.


NH Phone Jamming & Watergate

April 17, 2006

From The New York Times:

A Small-Time Crime With Hints of Big-Time Connections Lights Up the Net

The Internet is a great breeding ground for political conspiracies, and there is a new one lighting up computer monitors across the country. Bloggers are fascinated by what they see as eerie parallels between Watergate and a phone-jamming scandal in New Hampshire. It has low-level Republican operatives involved in dirty campaign tricks. It has checks from donors with murky backgrounds. It has telephone calls to the White House. What is unclear is whether it is the work of a few rogue actors, or something larger.

In 2002, there was a hard-fought Senate race between Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, and John Sununu, the Republican. On Election Day, Democratic workers arrived at five get-out-the-vote offices to find their phone lines jammed. It turned out that the jamming was being done by an Idaho telemarketing firm that was being paid by a Virginia consulting group. The fee for the jamming, reportedly $15,600, was paid by New Hampshire Republicans.

The executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party and the president of the Virginia consulting group pleaded guilty for their part in the scheme. James Tobin, who was the New England political director for the Republican National Committee, went to trial and was convicted of telephone harassment last December.

Now, Jack Abramoff and his Indian tribe clients have joined the cast of characters, and some records of phone calls to the White House have turned up, though the significance of both of these revelations is hotly disputed. The evidence that the phone-jamming scandal goes higher than Mr. Tobin remains scant. But the watchdogs are right about this: the news media, prosecutors and the general public should demand more information about what happened.

The parallels drawn with Watergate are a good place to start:

1. The return of the "second-rate burglary." The New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal is being dismissed as small-time, state-level misconduct, but it occurred at a critical moment in a tough election.

In November 2002, Republicans were intent on winning a Senate majority so they would control the White House and both houses of Congress. They saw the Sununu-Shaheen race as pivotal. On Election Day morning, the phone lines were jammed at the Democratic offices and at a get-out-the-vote operation run by a firefighters' union. The police were called, and the lines were eventually freed up. The election wasn't as close as expected. Mr. Sununu won, and Republicans retook the Senate.

2. The return of the high-priced lawyer. Aficionados of the Watergate connection like to point out that one of the first clues that the Watergate burglars were not ordinary small-time crooks was the presence of a slick lawyer in an expensive suit at their first court appearance. In the New Hampshire case, Mr. Tobin was represented by Williams & Connolly, a pre-eminent white-collar criminal law firm. The legal bills, which published estimates have put at more than $2.5 million, were paid by the Republican National Committee. Democrats are asking why the committee footed the bill, if Mr. Tobin was a rogue actor who implicated the national party in a loathsome and embarrassing crime.

3. The return of "follow the money." (As if it ever left.) New Hampshire Democrats pored over the filings of the New Hampshire Republican Party and found three contributions for $5,000 each, all shortly before the election. One was from Americans for a Republican Majority, Tom DeLay's political action committee. The other two were from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, tribes that were clients of Jack Abramoff. Those checks add up almost exactly to the cost of the phone jamming.

Republicans say that a lot of money flows into a campaign and that there is nothing to tie these checks to the phone jamming. But New Hampshire Democrats argue that it is highly unusual for Indian tribes to contribute to a state party in a state that does not have federally recognized Indian tribes or Indian gambling.

4. Does anybody get to ask: "What did they know, and when did they know it?" Democrats would, of course, like to connect the jamming to the White House, and this month they found a possible link. The Senate Majority Project, a pro-Democratic campaign group, examined the phone records that came out in Mr. Tobin's case and found that he made dozens of calls to the White House's office of political affairs right when he was executing the phone-jamming scheme. Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman who was the White House political director at the time, insists that close contact of this kind between political operatives is the norm on Election Day, and that none of the calls mentioned the jamming.

New Hampshire Democrats have filed a civil lawsuit seeking to learn more about what occurred. They want the judge to give them access to e-mail messages that could shed light on the phone calls to the White House, and to let them question officials of the Republican National Committee and the White House. In March, a federal grand jury indicted a fourth person in the jamming scheme, the former co-owner of the Idaho telemarketing firm. The Senate Majority Project has been putting key documents on its Web site (www.senatemajority.com) and is continuing to investigate.

The phone jamming could turn out to be the work of a few bad actors. It could, on the other hand, take the Abramoff scandals to a new level of skullduggery. At least, 34 years after Watergate, we know the right questions to ask.


The Hammer Resigns!

April 4, 2006

From CNN:

DeLay calling it quits
Once powerful House majority leader will leave Congress

Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House Republican leader whose tactics earned him the nickname "The Hammer," said Tuesday he will resign from Congress and drop out of his re-election race to protect his congressional seat from a Democratic victory.

"I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative personal campaign," DeLay said in a video announcement released Tuesday, a few hours after the news broke of his decision.

DeLay, 58, had been expected to wage a vigorous fight for his House seat against former Rep. Nick Lampson, a Democrat who lost his seat in an adjacent district in 2004. Lampson's loss came after DeLay and his allies pushed a controversial reapportionment plan through the Texas Legislature that made Lampson's district more Republican. (Watch why the once-powerful GOP leader is leaving the House — 2:12)

But DeLay is facing both criminal charges and the political fallout from his close association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

He said he is making the move because he wanted the political campaign in his Houston-area district to focus on the issues people care about — "not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me."

"My love for the Republican Party has played no small part in this decision," he said.

Democrats retaking Congress, he said, would be disastrous, replete with tax hikes, a cut-and-run stance in the war on terror and antics such as a presidential impeachment gambit.

DeLay was forced to step down as House majority leader last September, after he was indicted in Texas on charges that he improperly steered corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002. (Full story)

He has denied any wrongdoing, pleading not guilty and saying he has "no fear whatsoever" of any investigation.

However, a senior DeLay adviser told CNN that DeLay "has just had enough" and that "the toll on his family has been too great."

In his statement Tuesday, DeLay said it was time to move on.

"After many weeks of personal, prayerful thinking and analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to close this public service chapter of my life," DeLay said.

"It's time to begin opening new chapters and pursuing new opportunities to engage in the important cultural and political battles of our day from outside the arena of the United States House of Representatives," said DeLay.

"I have no regrets today and no doubt. I am proud of the past and I am at peace with the present and I'm excited about the future, which holds as always America's brightest days and mine, too. Thank you and may God bless you all. He has certainly blessed me."

DeLay said he will make his resignation effective sometime before mid-June but the timing will depend largely on the congressional calendar. Between now and then, he said, he will focus on legislative priorities for his district.

Republican congressional sources on Monday night told CNN that DeLay was calling supporters and colleagues to tell them of his decision.

A GOP leadership aide says DeLay will change his legal residence to Virginia, a maneuver that would make him ineligible to run for office in Texas and allow the party to pick a new nominee for the fall election. His resignation would also trigger a special election to fill the remaining months of his term. (Time.com interview with DeLay)

In addition to his indictment in Texas, DeLay has suffered politically from his association with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a variety of corruption charges and has been cooperating with investigators looking into allegations of corruption on Capitol Hill.

While DeLay has not been linked to wrongdoing in the Abramoff probe, two of his former staffers — Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon — have pleaded guilty to corruption charges. (Full story)

Despite his indictment and the fallout from the Abramoff investigation, DeLay easily beat three challengers to win the March GOP primary in Texas' 22nd District, in Houston's southeast suburbs. It was his first electoral test since his indictment.

First elected to Congress in 1984, DeLay became House majority whip when Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 midterm election. In that role, DeLay was responsible for securing votes for the leadership, which earned him the nickname "The Hammer." (Profile)

After fellow Texan Dick Armey retired as majority leader in 2002, DeLay stepped into the position, the No. 2 post in the House. While popular with his GOP colleagues, he was a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats, especially after he was admonished three times by the House Ethics Committee.

DeLay and two associates are facing trial in Texas on a money-laundering charge for their alleged role in funneling $190,000 in corporate donations from a political action committee created by DeLay to Texas GOP legislative candidates in 2002.

The money was sent from the DeLay-affiliated PAC to the Republican National Committee in Washington, which then sent $190,000 back to Texas candidates.

Prosecutors charge the transfers were nothing more than a scheme to circumvent a Texas law banning corporate donations to political campaigns. But DeLay's attorneys have insisted the transfers were legal and that, even if they weren't, DeLay was not directly involved in making them.

DeLay has accused the prosecutor who brought the charge, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, of conducting a political vendetta, a charge Earle has denied.


DeLay Aide To Plead Guilty

March 31, 2006

From CBS News:

Tony Rudy, a former top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, has agreed to plead guilty to charges in the widening federal investigation of lobbyist fraud, a law enforcement official said Friday.

A hearing was scheduled Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, where Rudy was expected to enter his plea.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not yet been filed with the court.

Rudy would be the first person to plead guilty to charges in the case since Jack Abramoff, once a leading GOP lobbyist, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January.

Rudy was referred to in court papers released in connection with Abramoff's plea. The documents referred to Rudy as Staffer A, and said that Abramoff, on behalf of clients who wanted to stop Internet gambling and postal rate legislation, paid $50,000 in 10 equal monthly payments beginning in June 2000 to Rudy's wife while Rudy was a top aide to DeLay.

The Abramoff court papers allege no wrongdoing by DeLay, and his attorney, Richard Cullen, said the former House Majority Leader "expects his current staffers and expected his former staffers to adhere to the highest ethical standards."

"None of this means necessarily that DeLay is going to be indicted," says CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "But a deal like this only strengthens the government's hand."

Cohen says "the closer these guilty pleas come to Tom DeLay the more threatened becomes his legal position. And that's because if there is a criminal case against him over this, and we don't know that yet, it's going to be made and supported and perhaps ultimately proven by those who had the most direct contact with him – and that's people like Rudy."

Rudy joined Abramoff's lobbying team at the Greenberg Traurig law firm in 2001. Soon after, he signed on with another former DeLay staffer, Ed Buckham, at the Alexander Strategy Group.

Abramoff, 47, was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for committing fraud in a case in Florida involving the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.

He will remain free while helping prosecutors with the vast bribery investigation involving members of Congress.

CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports that Abramoff still faces sentencing for his guilty pleas in Washington to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy.

No date has been set for his sentencing in that case.


GOP Congressman Deals On A Townhouse

March 30, 2006

From Yahoo News:

Rep. Jim Ryun on Wednesday denied allegations by Democrats that he received a "sweet real estate deal" when he purchased a town house from a nonprofit group with connections to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Kansas Republican bought the historic Capitol Hill town house for $410,000 on Dec. 15, 2000. That was $19,000 less than the U.S. Family Network paid for the home about two years earlier, in January 1999, despite a sharp rise in local real estate values during that time.

He denies receiving any favorable treatment in the purchase. He declined to be interviewed but said in a written statement that he paid "fair market value" for the home.

Ryun said he negotiated the sale price after a housing inspector found a structural problem that would require up to $20,000 to repair. He said the seller also saved money on the deal by not having to pay a real estate agent's commission.

The home is currently assessed at $764,310 for tax year 2007, according to the city's Office of Tax and Revenue.

Mike Gaughan, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, called it a "sweet real estate deal" and questioned how Ryun found a house that lost value over two years in one of the nation's hottest housing markets.

The U.S. Family Network is a now-disbanded nonprofit advocacy group for conservative ideas that was founded by Ed Buckham, a former chief of staff to former House Majority Leader     Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Buckham's lobbying firm rented office space in the town house from the group.

The group was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to Abramoff. Federal investigators are now exploring whether DeLay offered favorable treatment to Abramoff clients that made payments to U.S. Family Network, the Washington Post reported this week.

DeLay stepped down from his leadership post last fall after he was indicted in Texas on charges of laundering campaign money.

Ryun has not been connected to the scandals involving Abramoff or DeLay. Spokeswoman Michelle Schroeder said Ryun "was not specifically lobbied by USFN" and that the group has not made any contributions to his campaign.

Ryun said he heard news reports in the summer of 2000 that U.S. Family Network had zoning problems and might need to sell the house. Ryun said he asked Buckham for a contact and spoke to an attorney for the group in the fall of 2000.

"We inquired about the house and then entered into negotiations to buy it, finally arriving at a purchase price we believed to be fair market value based on its overall condition, including a structural deficiency," Ryun said.

A housing inspector found the upstairs master bathroom in the home was in danger of falling through the ceiling and told Ryun the bathtub should be removed and the living room ceiling needed to be reinforced, Ryun said.

Ryun said he asked the U.S. Family Network to take those repairs into account in reaching the sale price. He also agreed not to use a real estate agent, saving the group a 6 percent sales commission of $24,600.

To bolster his argument, Ryun's office released documents showing that another home on the same block was sold for $409,000 on the same day he bought his home. Property records show the other home is on a land area about half the size of Ryun's and is now assessed at $236,000 less than Ryun's home.

Ryun's office also produced documents showing the congressman paid $54,500 to make a variety of repairs to the home, including the structural support problem.

Buckham's attorney, Laura A. Miller, did not return a call seeking comment on the sale.

Meanwhile, Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday in Miami to nearly six years in prison for committing fraud in the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. He will remain free while helping prosecutors with a vast bribery investigation involving members of Congress.

Abramoff, 47, and former business partner Adam Kidan, 41, received the minimum sentence under federal guidelines: five years and 10 months.


GOP Surprise: DeLay Aide A Crook

March 27, 2006

From The Washington Post:

A top adviser to former House Whip Tom DeLay received more than a third of all the money collected by the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit organization the adviser created to promote a pro-family political agenda in Congress, according to the group's accounting records.

DeLay's former chief of staff, Edwin A. Buckham, who helped create the group while still in DeLay's employ, and his wife, Wendy, were the principal beneficiaries of the group's $3.02 million in revenue, collecting payments totaling $1,022,729 during a five-year period ending in 2001, public and private records show.

The group's revenue was drawn mostly from clients of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to its records. From an FBI subpoena for the records, it can be inferred that the bureau is exploring whether there were links between the payments and favorable legislative treatment of Abramoff's clients by DeLay's office.

In recent months, Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of tax fraud and conspiracy to defraud clients and bribe a public official; DeLay (R-Tex.) stepped down from his post as House majority leader; and Buckham folded his lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group.

In the late 1990s, when DeLay's influence was growing, the lawmaker depicted the USFN in a promotional letter as a nationwide, grass-roots organization. In fact, it had a tiny staff that barely registered an impact on Capitol Hill. The group appears to have served mostly as a vehicle for funneling corporate funds to DeLay's advisers and financing ads that attacked Democrats.

The group's payments to the Buckhams — in the form of a monthly retainer as well as commissions on donations by Abramoff's clients — overlapped briefly with Edwin Buckham's service as chief of staff to DeLay and continued during his subsequent role as DeLay's chief political adviser.

During this latter period, Buckham and his wife, Wendy, acting through their consulting firm, made monthly payments averaging $3,200-$3,400 apiece to DeLay's wife, Christine, for three of the years in which he collected money from the USFN and some other clients.

Even though Buckham left DeLay's staff at the end of 1997, he still coordinated much of the congressional office's work and ran DeLay's principal fundraising committee from a building bought with USFN money, according to three former DeLay staff members who said they had firsthand knowledge of his role then.

"If an individual called DeLay's appointments secretary saying they wanted to talk to DeLay about overregulation, the appointment secretary would say go speak to Buckham," one former aide said. Buckham, an evangelical minister, also continued to serve as DeLay's spiritual adviser and prayed frequently with him, the former aides said.

DeLay's lawyer, Richard Cullen, disputed the accounts of Buckham's influence. He said Buckham made appointment requests but was not involved in final decisions on scheduling after he left the office. He also said Buckham did not coordinate the office's activities, saying that was done by successors.

Abramoff, for his part, once boasted that he had invested a million dollars in Buckham, according to a former Abramoff colleague who said he witnessed the conversation. Abramoff expressed confidence that the funds would bring a good return for his clients, the colleague said. Abramoff, through a spokesman, declined comment on this claim or other details of this article.

Wendy Buckham was not the only spouse of a DeLay staffer to benefit from the USFN revenue stream sustained by Abramoff's clients. A consulting firm owned by the wife of Tony C. Rudy, DeLay's deputy chief of staff, was paid $15,600 by the group in 1999 and another $10,400 in 2000. Rudy resigned to work with Abramoff in 2001. It could not be determined what the payments were for.

DeLay supported the interests of many USFN donors on Capitol Hill, including an Indian tribe seeking to keep a tax exemption for gambling revenue and wealthy Russians seeking a favorable vote on Russian aid legislation. DeLay's spokesman has said his opinions and votes were based solely on "good policy" and national interests.

Edwin and Wendy Buckham and their lawyer, Laura A. Miller, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on USFN spending or the money they received. The Rudys did not return calls to their home and Tony Rudy's cellphone.

The accounting records reviewed by The Washington Post included a list of every transaction by the USFN from 1996 to 2000 and the group's tax returns for 2001, the last year it existed. They demonstrate that the consulting fees, bonuses and fundraising commissions for the Buckhams — plus the purchase of a townhouse that served as the locus of DeLay's own fundraising efforts — consumed far more of the group's budget than its spending for lobbying on "moral fitness" issues.

A previous article in The Post detailed how USFN had drawn its largest checks from Abramoff's clients, including $1 million from what several former Buckham associates described as Russian oil and gas executives and hundreds of thousands of dollars from an Indian tribe.

Records obtained by federal investigators after that article appeared and reviewed by The Post make clear just how unusual USFN's spending was. Its revenue was lavished not only on DeLay's advisers but on a variety of expenses that experts say are atypical for such a small nonprofit: $62,375 for wall art, a vase listed at $20,100, airfare and meals for Abramoff that cost $11,548, and $267,202 in travel and entertainment expenses that appear to have benefited mostly Buckham, the group's board members, and its tiny staff.

"They were using donor funds for interior decorating," said Chris Geeslin, a pastor in Frederick, Md., who between 1998 and 2001 served as one of the group's directors and then its president. He blamed what he described as the group's misspending on Buckham, who he said "would tell us where you should put things. He orchestrated all this. . . . He used us."
A Handpicked Board

When the USFN was incorporated at Buckham's instigation in 1996, it described its purpose as promoting policies favorable for "families, the economic prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and general well being of the United States."

From the outset, it was organized differently from other public advocacy groups located in the capital that hoped to influence the nation's leaders. For example, Buckham selected as its board members three evangelical Christians from the tiny town of Republic, Wash. (pop. 954), who associates say he had met at a religious retreat.

According to the minutes from its March 1997 board meeting, the group considered appointing "J. Abramoff" to the board, but never did. The group's first donation, a $15,000 check, came from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, one of Abramoff's highest-paying clients, and the next two donor checks came from other groups linked with Abramoff.

Formally, Buckham was a consultant to the board, but he said in an October 2003 deposition taken by Federal Election Commission lawyers and obtained by The Post that he had a verbal understanding allowing him to take whatever actions he deemed "in the best interest of the USFN pertaining to issues that they cared about." This included authorizing payments to others.

But some routine procedures were not followed: USFN officials did not register as lobbyists until 2000, when the group became the target of a complaint at the FEC, and they sent in retroactive registrations for the three previous years.

The Buckhams closely controlled the group's finances. Wendy Buckham formally served as the group's treasurer and secretary for only five months in 1996 and 1997, but kept the books and signed its checks until it folded in 2001, according to its tax forms and former officers. Edwin Buckham said in the 2003 deposition it was he who suggested she take this role.

USFN nevertheless paid both an accounting firm and Wendy Buckham for accounting in 1997. She also collected $43,000 in "commissions" that year on the first $524,975 in contributions to the group from business entities that worked with Abramoff, according to its ledger. Congressional ethics rules do not bar such payments to spouses unless they are meant to purchase favors from lawmakers or staff.

The Alexander Strategy Group began collecting its monthly stipend of $10,000-$12,000 from USFN in October 1997 to perform fundraising and other services, even while Buckham was still receiving a salary from the whip's office, according to House payroll records. House rules allow such overlap only if the outside income is limited and not a reward for official acts.

Within four weeks after Buckham resigned from DeLay's staff in December 1997, the Alexander Strategy Group began also collecting commissions on donations to USFN from firms that worked with Abramoff. The largest were two $75,000 payments in 1998 and one for $104,500 in 1999. The total reached $364,500 before they stopped at the end of 1999. USFN's ledger also lists an unexplained "bonus" payment of $60,000 in December 1998.

The Internal Revenue Service generally requires that board members of nonprofits approve all payments to related entities. But several documents labeled as contracts with Buckham's firm in the group's papers are not signed, and Geeslin said in an interview that some of the minutes for board meetings in 1998 and 1999 were formally written after the FEC began its investigation.

Besides spending lavishly during its meetings at various resorts, the group also spent $149,000 in July 1998 to lease a skybox at MCI Center "at the request of one of the donors to USFN," the group's internal audit states. Geeslin said that person was actually Abramoff, who expressed his gratitude while sitting near him at a sporting event.

In the version of the group's official, typewritten ledgers, supplied to the FBI last month under subpoena, several of its most unusual expenditures are partially crossed out and relabeled in ink. The $20,100 purchase of a vase in October 1999 from a Royal Doulton dealer in Miami was relabeled "office equipment," and the $62,375 purchase in January 1999 of a collection of Salvador Dali and Peter Max prints was relabeled "office fixtures."

Asked about the handwritten changes, the group's former lawyer, J. Thomas Smith, said he did not recall seeing them and declined further comment.

Art Taylor, head of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, a watchdog group, noted after reviewing the nonprofit group's tax returns for 1998 and 1999 that a tax inspector might wonder if "they have enough activity going on" of public benefit to justify their tax exemption. "If they were a charity," he said, "they don't meet our standards."
Labor in the Marianas

One of the first policy issues to be discussed by the group's board, according to its March 1997 minutes, was a "free-market research project" in the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. protectorate in the Pacific Ocean.

At the time, Abramoff was under contract with the Marianas government to lobby against congressional legislation to impede the free flow of immigrant labor to the islands from China and elsewhere in Asia, and impose a minimum hourly wage exceeding the island's standard rate of $3.05.

To U.S. immigration officials and other critics, maintaining the Marianas' exemptions from these rules amounted to providing legal protection for sweatshops. But textile manufacturers, who dominated the islands' politics and profited heavily from paying immigrant workers less than required on the mainland, ardently opposed the legislation. The Marianas government paid Abramoff a total of $7.17 million in lobbying fees from 1996 to 2001, according to an audit there.

Abramoff focused on DeLay's office in his lobbying effort, billing the Marianas for 187 contacts in 1996 and 1997, including 104 conversations with Buckham and 16 direct meetings with DeLay, according to Abramoff's billing records. Buckham affirmed in a 1995 interview withNational Journal that Abramoff "is someone on our side. . . . He has access to DeLay."

So it was perhaps understandable that in the spring of 1997, USFN's board was eager to demonstrate that the economic policies that were good for the Marianas (pop. 53,552) could be good for America. To do so, it dispatched its first director, a former manager of DeLay's 1996 Texas reelection campaign named Robert G. Mills.

During the trip, Mills — accompanied by Buckham, who was still on DeLay's staff — met with Willie Tan, the islands' largest private employer. Tan's textile companies had settled a lawsuit filed five years earlier by the U.S. Labor Department charging workplace abuses, and he had long cultivated contacts in Washington to stop the immigration and wage legislation.

In April 1997, for example, a longtime Tan aide and island politician named Benigno Fitial went to Washington, where he sang "Happy Birthday" to DeLay in the whip's office. He sent Buckham an e-mail after the trip expressing appreciation for his support and recalling Buckham's explanation that one of his roles was to "stop legislation from getting on the floor of the House." Fitial signed the e-mail, "YOUR 'ADOPTED' BROTHER BEN."

Three months earlier, Tan's network of companies had written five checks of $10,000 each to USFN, and Buckham's wife had claimed $10,000 in "commissions" on these checks, according to the group's ledger.

These were just the first of 23 payments by Tan's companies to the group, which eventually totaled $650,000.

Later in 1997, Wendy Buckham claimed another $10,000 in commissions on Tan's checks, and in 1998, the couple's jointly owned consulting firm took another $20,000 in commissions explicitly attributed to the Tan donations, according to the ledger. Many other "commissions" collected by the couple were not linked in the ledgers to a specific donor.

DeLay saw Tan when he took his wife and daughter to the Marianas in a December 1997 trip arranged with the help of Abramoff and his lobby firm. After brunching with Tan on his first full day, followed by a round of golf with Tan and others, DeLay attended a dinner in his honor sponsored by Tan's holding company at the local Pacific Islands Club.

It was at this dinner that DeLay gave the speech in which he called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends," according to a copy. DeLay also reminded Tan and his colleagues of his earlier promise that no wage and immigration legislation would be passed.

"Stand firm," DeLay said in his closing. "Resist evil. Remember that all truth and blessings emanate from our Creator." He then departed with Tan to see a cockfight, according to a written account by one of the trip participants.

In response to a reporter's question, Tan said in an e-mail Friday that "we hired [a] reputable firm, and we never ask[ed] the firm to do anything wrong." He said he was unaware of the commissions collected personally by the Buckhams.

No Marianas immigration or wage reform legislation passed Congress. Aides to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a key sponsor, say that Senate-passed legislation was never taken up by any House committee.
Attack Ads

Before the U.S. Family Network folded in 2001 under pressure from an FEC probe, it became involved in other controversial political matters.

In 1998, the group lobbied Congress against new regulations on cigarettes and collected a $100,000 donation from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. It also spent $75,863 that year on radio ads that called for President Clinton's resignation and attacked Democrats, according to the group's ledger and transcripts of the ads.

The following year, the National Republican Congressional Committee gave the USFN a $500,000 check to finance additional radio ads in the districts of vulnerable Democrats. Buckham told the FEC he solicited the check, and others told FEC investigators it was paid over the objections of the NRCC's director and chief counsel.

Of the $500,000, USFN gave just $300,000 to another nonprofit group for the ads. In his deposition, Buckham explained that he retained a portion of the Republican Party's check as a commission. "If I raise money, I get a portion," Buckham said. "It is in my contract."

The NRCC in 2004 paid the eighth-highest fine in FEC history to settle allegations that some of its officials colluded with USFN on the ads in violation of campaign finance laws.

As the group started to wind down, it made five payments totaling nearly $200,000 to entities affiliated with its staff or board members or located at USFN's address, according to the ledger. It sold the townhouse at a $19,000 loss.

The board also agreed at its final meeting in January 2001 to pay $150,000 to the Dorothy Joan Morris Foundation.

The minutes state this was done at the request of "the gentleman who donated the largest amount of money to USFN" — a term that Geeslin said is a euphemism for Buckham's fundraising.

Incorporation papers on file with the Maryland Secretary of State list the foundation's location as an insurance company office in a strip mall in Frederick.

The papers state that the foundation is in turn owned by another group, Foundation Ministries Inc., which has its legal address at the Frederick home of the Buckhams.

Dorothy Joan Morris is the name of the 79-year-old mother of a former Buckham assistant named Roger Albanese, who is described in USFN documents as collecting roughly $20,000 from the group for "program services related to prayer." She says she never authorized the use of her name for the foundation, was never told about the $150,000 donation and never saw any of the proceeds.

"What rights does he [Buckham] have to put that in my name?" asked Morris, who said she lives with her husband in a trailer home parked in Las Vegas. "It's fishy."