Jack Abramoff: The Man Who Bought Washington

From deep inside the Republican elite, Jack Abramoff brought new excesses to the lobbying game. Who is he, and how did he get away with it for so long?

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Another official involved with the probe told TIME that investigators are viewing Abramoff as "the middle guy"—suggesting there are bigger targets in their sights. The FBI has 13 field offices across the country working on the case, with two dozen agents assigned to it full time and roughly the same number working part time. "We are going to chase down every lead," Chris Swecker, head of the FBI's criminal division, told TIME.

Just following the money that Abramoff spread across Washington should give them plenty to do. So toxic are any campaign donations tied to him that panicked lawmakers from Hastert ($69,000) to Republican Senator Conrad Burns ($150,000) to Democratic Senator Max Baucus ($18,892) can't give it away to charities fast enough. Even President Bush is giving the American Heart Association the $6,000 that he received from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes he represented. (See accompanying story.)

Given the potential damage, it was no surprise that Republicans sought to make Abramoff a bipartisan stain, circulating a seven-page research paper titled "Jack Abramoff's Democrat Connections," which lists contributions and news stories associating the disgraced lobbyist with nine Democratic Senators and six Democratic House members. But the fact is that about two-thirds of Abramoff-related money went to Republicans, and that may have already begun to shift the political equation 10 months before the congressional election. In an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday, respondents said they favored a generic Democrat for Congress over a Republican by a lopsided 49% to 36%.

All of which explains why it is likely to be a while before House Republicans regain the discipline they had in the days when DeLay was known as "the Hammer." His temporary replacement, whip Roy Blunt, wants the job but hasn't proved to be a stellar vote counter in the time he has been filling in. And his undisguised ambition has strained relations with what is left of DeLay's operation. Some of the Old Guard are rallying behind Ohio Congressman John Boehner as a replacement, while younger conservatives are talking up Indiana's Mike Pence. Also considered likely to run are Arizona's John Shadegg and Jerry Lewis of California, who has a formidable power base by virtue of his perch as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. As rank-and-file Republicans fight about who will lead them, it will be with an eye over their shoulder to see where the Abramoff investigation is going. Whereas they once had an almost blind faith in the judgment and invincibility of their leaders, "for the first time," says a Republican lawmaker, "members are looking at the whole thing and saying, 'I've gotta start protecting me.'"


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