Abramoff has made Republicans on the Hill increasingly nervous over the last year, as the investigation widened and details emerged about the gravy train of perks he lavished on lawmakersfrom expensive meals to golf outings to tickets to sporting events. So far, only one Representative, Bob Ney of Ohio, has been identified in public Justice Department documents as part of the Abramoff investigation, though he has not been charged. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who traveled with Abramoff to Scotland and Moscow in 1997 and 2000, is among as many as 40 current and former lawmakers and staffers believed to be under scrutiny by a Justice-led task force looking into Abramoff's activities.
The plea deal comes as the House Republican leadership faces trying times. DeLay was forced to step down as Houe Majority Leader after he was indicted on unrelated money laundering charges in Texas, and his temporary replacement, Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, has failed to corral increasingly fractious House Republicans. Leadership elections are expected when the House reconvenes at the end of January. And nervous incumbents worry that the Abramoff and DeLay scandals will hurt them in mid-term elections next fall.
Abramoff, 46, faces up to 30 years in prison and as much as $25 million in restitution to the victims of his alleged conspiracy alone. As part of the deal, he agreed to hand over more than $1.7 million in unpaid taxes to the IRS. On Wednesday, he's expected to plead guilty to fraud and conspiracy in a related case, involving his purchase of the SunCruz casino boat line.