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Only An 'Outside Counsel' Can Reveal The Truth



WASHINGTON, D.C. - In another development in the Abramoff-Congress lobbying scandal, lawmakers today renewed their call that Attorney General Gonzales appoint an independent outside counsel to determine whether senior Justice Department officials interfered with a criminal investigation by demoting a U.S. attorney and suppressed a national security analysis, all in an effort to protect lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients in two Pacific islands.

In addition, the lawmakers also asked that Department lawyers - not an outside counsel - investigate allegations that in 1999 an aide to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Michael Scanlon, and a former aide to DeLay, Ed Buckham, founder of the recently defunct Alexander Strategy Group, interfered in local elections in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in order to renew Abramoff's contract there and protect the islands' flourishing sweatshop industry. DeLay was the most vocal public defender of the CNMI garment industry and he and his staff were Abramoff associates.

The lawmakers first called for the outside counsel in October, 2005. They are renewing their call because of new information revealed since that time and because of the Department's public response to their first request.

"[T]he specific matters we are raising here require an outside counsel, and not the attention of career prosecutors, because of the allegation of improper involvement by officials at the highest levels of the Department," the lawmakers wrote.

The Department replied to the original request in November, saying that the Inspector General was looking into the matter and would refer any possible criminal issues to an appropriate office within the Department.

"This response is entirely inadequate," the lawmakers wrote today, "and ignores the serious conflicts of interest that these two matters present for Department investigators... Given that the allegations involve the former Attorney General and his chief of staff, an investigation by outside counsel and not internal prosecutors is required.

"In addition, given your own position at the time of the incidents described herein, as counsel to the White House, and the fact that the President is responsible for recommending all U.S. Attorney appointments, we believe it is further necessary and prudent to investigate this case through an independent outside counsel," the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was signed by Reps. George Miller (D-CA), senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, John Conyers (D-MI), senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), senior Democrat on the House Resources Committee, William Delahunt (D-MA), a member of the Judiciary Committee, and Madeleine Bordallo (D), the Delegate from Guam. They each signed the original request on October 6, 2005.

The outside counsel is needed in a case concerning Fred Black, then the acting U.S. Attorney for Guam and the Marianas, Abramoff, and two of his major clients, the Guam Superior Court and the government and garment industry of the Mariana Islands. The Mariana Islands are a U.S. territory whose economy is based on cheap and often abusive immigrant labor and duty free export status to the rest of the United States. Miller and other Democrats have sought legislation to reform labor and immigration laws there for years, efforts that were specifically blocked by Abramoff and his allies in Congress.

It is alleged that Black was demoted and replaced immediately after he secured a subpoena related to Abramoff from a grand jury investigating Abramoff's representation of the Guam Superior Court. It is further alleged that Abramoff learned about a classified analysis of security breaches posed by CNMI's weak immigration controls that Black requested in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 and that Abramoff used his connections with then-Attorney General Ashcroft and his then-chief of staff to suppress the report.

The lawmakers wrote today that new information supports the immigration allegations. "Since our original request, it has been reported that the immigration report was completed but never released or acted upon," they wrote. "According to a report by Bloomberg News, 'The U.S. Justice Department never acted on a post-Sept. 11 proposal, contested by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, calling for increased federal control over immigration to the Mariana Islands. The agency reassigned the two officials who produced a 34-page report that contained the proposal, and House members of both parties who oversee the Homeland Security and Justice departments said they were never told about it. The 2002 report warns that continued local control over the Marianas' borders will 'seriously jeopardize the national security' of the U.S.

Rep. Miller issued this additional comment: "In addition to outside counsel request, it is critical for Justice to fully investigate whether powerful aides and former aides to Rep. DeLay interfered with Marianas elections by arranging to trade federal appropriations for the votes of two local office holders in order to support Abramoff and the sweatshop industry. Initial evidence indicates that is exactly what happened. These are serious and deeply disturbing allegations that require a thorough examination."

And Rep. Conyers said: "At a time when public confidence in the government and its leaders has been lost, we must act to restore that faith. The entire justice system lacks credibility when prosecutors are removed for political reasons and lobbyists are permitted to gain access to information that they cannot legally have or secure votes in exchange for appropriations."

See today's letter and additional background on the Abramoff-Congress-Marianas Sweatshop scandal here:


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