Bush To Give Back Abramoff Funds

Wanting to avoid any link to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the White House said Wednesday that President Bush's re-election campaign was donating $6,000 in contributions from Abramoff, his wife and an Indian tribe he represented to charity.

The money will be donated to the American Heart Association, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

Abramoff pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges related to Congressional bribery and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He was due in federal court in Miami later Wednesday to plead guilty to more charges stemming from his purchases of a Florida gambling boat fleet called SunCruz.

Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for Mr. Bush's 2004 re-election effort, earning the honorary title "pioneer" from the campaign. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president does not remember meeting the former lobbyist, although Abramoff was a guest at three White House Hanukkah receptions.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., also announced plans to give away Abramoff's campaign contributions. DeLay's office confirmed to CBS News that he will donate $15,000 in Abramoff-related donations to charities. DeLay is now awaiting trial in Texas on charges of laundering campaign money used in races for the state legislature.


Read the government's plea agreement with Jack Abramoff

Abramoff's plea Wednesday to charges of tax evasion, conspiracy and fraud could spell trouble for some of Washington's top power brokers, including more than a dozen members of Congress, reports CBS News national political correspondent Gloria Borger.

The deal came after two years of intense federal investigation and months of negotiation with Abramoff's lawyers

The full extent of the investigation is not yet known, but Justice Department officials said Tuesday they intended to make use of the trove of e-mails and other material in Abramoff's possession.

"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive and we will continue to follow it wherever it leads," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal division.

The corruption Abramoff acknowledged was breathtaking in scope: bilking Indian tribes of more than $60 million, keeping nearly half of it in kickbacks.

The indictment specifically mentions just one member: representative number one. Sources say he is Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio. But official Washington remains on edge, waiting for what could be another round of indictments now that Abramoff is talking.

Court papers also refer to an aide to then-House Majority Leader DeLay, who helped stop anti-gambling legislation regarding the Internet. Abramoff, the papers state, paid the staffer's wife $50,000 from clients that benefited from the actions of the staffer, identified by a person close to the investigation as Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing. Rudy did not return a phone call Tuesday at his lobbying firm.

DeLay, R-Texas, voted against his party on the Internet anti-gambling legislation which was designed to make it easier for authorities to stop online gambling sites.

DeLay attorney Richard Cullen said he believes that when the investigation is completed and the truth is known that the Justice Department will conclude that his client, who had risen to House majority leader before stepping down from the post last year, did nothing wrong.

In Austin, Texas, district attorney Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor in a money laundering case against DeLay, issued subpoenas Tuesday in connection with Abramoff. DeLay is fighting state campaign finance charges in Texas, hoping to clear himself in time to reclaim his leadership post in Congress.

Earle is seeking records from Abramoff's former employers, legal firms Greenberg Traurig LLP and Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, LLP.

Earle has also subpoenaed records from lawyers or representatives for two Indian tribes.

The political ramifications of the Abramoff probe were apparent, with minority Democrats intending to make ethics a campaign issue in this election year. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Abramoff's confession in court was "not a surprise because this Republican Congress is the most corrupt in history and the American people are paying the price."

Some political consultants and analysts are comparing potential damage from the Abramoff investigation to the 1992 House banking scandal that led to the retirement or ouster of 77 lawmakers.

"They're all a little nervous," says Borger. "It's very edgy up there on Capitol Hill. After all, this was a very well-connected Republican lobbyist who spread an awful lot of money around town, largely to Republicans because, of course, they're the party in power, but also to Democrats."

The court papers in the Washington case refer to Ney, saying that regarding SunCruz, the congressman placed a statement drafted by Abramoff partner Michael Scanlon in the Congressional Record. The statement, the court papers say, was calculated to pressure the owner of SunCruz to sell on terms favorable to Abramoff.

Ney denies wrongdoing, saying that "at the time I dealt with Jack Abramoff, I obviously did not know, and had no way of knowing, the self-serving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff's activities."

Abramoff and his former partner, Adam Kidan, are charged with concocting a false $23 million wire transfer making it appear they contributed a sizable stake of their own cash into the $147.5 million purchase of cruise ships.

Abramoff was once a well-connected lobbyist able to command almost unimaginable fees: A Louisiana tribe once paid Scanlon and him more than $30 million over 26 months. Now facing up to 11 years in prison, Abramoff apologized after pleading guilty.

"Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret for all my actions and mistakes," Abramoff said. "I hope I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer."