CBSN

Top Lobbyist Makes A Deal

Jack Abramoff, foreground, leaves Federal Court in Washington Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006. The once-powerful lobbyist pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors investigating influence peddling that has threatened powerful members of the U.S. Congress. At right is his attorney Abbe Lowell.
AP
Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who spawned a congressional corruption scandal, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three felonies and pledged to cooperate in a criminal probe edging closer to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

"I plead guilty, your honor," Abramoff said in flat, unemotional tones, accepting a plea bargain that said he had provided lavish trips, golf outings, meals and more to public officials "in exchange for a series of official acts."

The deal comes after two years of intense federal investigation
and months of negotiation with Abramoff's lawyers, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.

In one case, he reported payments totaling $50,000 to the wife of a congressional aide to help block legislation for a client. The aide worked for DeLay, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Public corruption aside, Abramoff admitted defrauding four Indian tribes and other clients, taking millions in kickbacks from a one-time business partner, misusing a charity he had established and failing to pay income taxes on millions of ill-gotten gains.

He is expected to plead guilty to additional charges on Wednesday in Florida in connection with charges stemming from the 2000 purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.

Borger adds that 12-15 members of Congress could face further scrutiny as a result of Abramoff's plea deal. At the Justice Department, officials said they intend to make use of the trove of e-mails and other material in Abramoff's possession as part of a probe that is believed to be focusing on as many as 20 members of Congress and aides.

"This investigation continues ... however long it takes, wherever it leads," said Alice Fisher, assistant attorney general.

Whatever the legal ramifications, there was swift political fallout at the dawn of an election year in which minority Democrats intend to make ethics a campaign issue.

"We are coming up on a very important congressional election," says Thomas DeLuca, a political science professor at Fordham University. "These corruption scandals which tend, right now, to be in the Republican party seem to be building up at precisely the time that President Bush's credibility on a host of issues has been falling rapidly."

In a turnabout, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., joined the roster of politicians announcing plans to donate Abramoff's campaign contributions to charity.

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."