Friday, February 17, 2006

Senate Ethics Committee Responds to Democracy 21 Request for Abramoff Investigation

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 /U.S. Newswire/ -- On Nov. 22,
2005, Democracy 21 wrote to the Senate Ethics
Committee calling for an ethics investigation "to
determine whether Senators engaged in official acts to
influence a case-specific regulatory matter at the
Interior Department that benefited lobbyist Jack
Abramoff's clients, and received contributions and
financial favors from Abramoff and these clients, in
violation of Senate ethics rules."

In a letter sent today to Democracy 21 by the Senate
Ethics Committee, the Committee stated that it "has
decided to defer, at this time, its determinations as
to the allegations referred to in your November 22,
2005, letter to the Committee and in other press
accounts about the Abramoff matter."

The Senate Ethics Committee letter also revealed that
"the Department of Justice has made the Committee
aware that it has concerns about the impact an Ethics
Committee investigation may have on the Department's
ongoing criminal investigation into Abramoff-related
matters."

A copy of the Senate Ethics Committee letter and a
copy of the November 22, 2005 letter from Democracy 21
to the Committee are available at
http://www.democracy21.org .

The Democracy 21 letter was sent to the Senate Ethics
Committee last November, following an Associated Press
story (November 17, 2005), which reported that
"numerous Representatives and Senators intervened in a
case-specific regulatory matter with Secretary of the
Interior Gale Norton to urge the Interior Department
to reject a request from the Jena tribe of Choctaw
Indians for a new casino in Louisiana." (A similar
request for an ethics investigation was also sent to
the House Ethics Committee last November. No response
has been received from the House Committee.) According
to the AP story, "Nearly three dozen members of
Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed
the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from
opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large
donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack
Abramoff."

According to today's Senate Ethics Committee letter to
Democracy 21:

As a matter of general practice, and absent special
circumstances, where the Committee has sufficient
reason to believe that a law enforcement entity is
conducting a criminal investigation in a matter that
may overlap with matters of potential interest to the
Committee in carrying out its investigative authority,
the Committee will defer action on its part pending
resolution of the criminal investigation. Moreover,
the Department of Justice has made the Committee aware
that it has concerns about the impact an Ethics
Committee investigation may have on the Department's
ongoing criminal investigation into Abramoff-related
matters.

The Senate Ethics Committee letter further stated,
"Therefore, based upon the Committee's general
practice, and upon consideration of the views of the
Department of Justice, the Committee has decided to
defer, at this time, its determinations as to the
allegations referred to in your November 22, 2005,
letter to the Committee and in other press accounts
about the Abramoff matter."

According to Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer,
"While we appreciate the Senate Ethics Committee
responding to our letter, we remain deeply concerned
that to the public's knowledge, there has not been any
investigation in this Congress by the Senate Ethics
Committee or the House Ethics Committee of any of the
lobbying scandals relating to lobbyist Jack Abramoff's
improper conduct on Capitol Hill involving Members and
congressional staff."

"The failure to conduct any congressional ethics
inquiry into the Abramoff scandal and the complete
collapse of the House Ethics Committee make clear why
it is essential to establish an independent,
nonpartisan Office of Public Integrity in Congress, as
set forth in legislation introduced yesterday by
Representatives Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Marty
Meehan (D- MA)," Wertheimer stated.

"Previous major congressional scandals have involved
both criminal investigations and ethics committee
investigations and both are surely called for in the
Abramoff affair which could turn out to be the biggest
congressional scandal of modern times," Wertheimer
stated.

"The Justice Department and the congressional ethics
committees each have their own responsibilities here,
both of which are extremely important and must be
carried out," Wertheimer stated. "The Justice
Department is responsible for pursuing violations of
the criminal laws. The ethics committees are
responsible for ensuring that members of Congress
comply with congressional ethics rules, regardless of
whether any laws have been broken."

According to Wertheimer, "In the end, there must be a
comprehensive ethics investigation in Congress to
determine whether Members and congressional staff
violated congressional ethics rules in their dealings
with Jack Abramoff."

According to Wertheimer, "Democracy 21 will contact
the Justice Department to request that they make clear
the parameters of their 'concerns about the impact an
Ethics Committee investigation may have on the
Department's ongoing criminal investigation into
Abramoff-related matters,' as stated in the Senate
Ethics Committee letter."

"We also will continue to pursue congressional ethics
investigations of the Interior Department case
addressed in our November 22, 2005 letters to the
Senate and House Ethics Committees, and of the entire
Jack Abramoff affair, until members of Congress
fulfill their responsibilities to the institution and
the American people," Wertheimer stated.

In a footnote, the Senate Ethics Committee letter
pointed out that "Neither this decision to defer, nor
any statement in this letter, should be taken to
indicate that the Committee has made any determination
as to whether the allegations in your letter, or
related allegations, against any named Member or
Senate employee have merit or provide a sufficient
basis for the undertaking of an inquiry by the
Committee."

http://www.usnewswire.com/

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/© 2006 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

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