Friday, February 03, 2006From the New York Times...
Democrats Call for Special Prosecutor in Lobbying Case
By Philip Shenon
The New York Times
Thursday 02 February 2006
Washington - Most Senate Democrats called on the Justice Department today to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the criminal investigation centered on the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt members of Congress and other public officials.
The 35 Democrats and Senator James Jeffords of Vermont, an independent, said in a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that an outside prosecutor was needed because of "Mr. Abramoff's significant ties to Republican leadership in Congress and allegations of improper activity involving administration officials."
The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he signed the letter because "we need an independent investigation, not a whitewash led by Attorney General Gonzales, President Bush's best friend." He added in a statement, "President Bush has worn out his credibility with the American people yet he continues to stonewall an investigation into his involvement with Jack Abramoff, asking him to trust him without explaining why."
He was referring to President Bush's comments at a news conference last week in which he said he could not recall ever meeting Mr. Abramoff, a major fund-raiser in Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.
The Justice Department had no immediate response to the senators' request but in the past has rebuffed calls for a special prosecutor, saying that the department had demonstrated that it is pursuing the investigation aggressively. The call for a special prosecutor was first made last week by two of the Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
The letter today noted that the chief investigator in the case, Noel Hillman, the head of the department's Public Integrity division, was stepping down after the announcement last week that he was being nominated by the White House to a federal judgeship in New Jersey.
His departure, which creates a vacancy at the top of the inquiry less than a month after Mr. Abramoff's guilty plea, means that the "appointment of a special counsel at this point in time is made even more appropriate," the letter said.
The calls for a special prosecutor came as Democrats made a separate effort on the Senate floor today to bring attention to Mr. Abramoff and his ties to the White House. They introduced an amendment to a budget bill that called on the White House to provide a public account of meetings that Mr. Abramoff may have had with Mr. Bush, his staff or others in the executive branch.
Democratic Congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because of staff rules that bar them from commenting publicly, said they had little expectation that the amendment would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. But they said Democrats were still eager to bring attention to the issue.
"If the president has nothing to hide, there shouldn't be a problem," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and one of the amendment's sponsors. Another sponsor, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, said that "the claim that the president doesn't know Mr. Abramoff doesn't seem to hold water."
Senator Lautenberg, who also signed the letter seeking a special prosecutor, had supported Mr. Hillman for the judicial appointment in New Jersey, and discussions about the nomination have been under way since last year.
The senator's chief counsel, Dan Katz, said that Senator Lautenberg "has supported Noel Hillman for a judgeship for almost a year and didn't think he should be denied the opportunity because he is doing a good job in his current position." But with Mr. Hillman gone, he said, the senator supports a special prosecutor because he "believes this case has become too politically sensitive to continue within the administration."