Scandal’s sordid stain

As is
frequently observed of the young idealists who flock to the nation’s
capital, “They came to do good and stayed to do well.” Former House
Speaker Newt Gingrich applies it to the Republican Revolution he led in

And, as pundit Andrew Ferguson said in an article reflecting
conservatives’ dismay that the Republicans who had come to Washington
to drain the swamp were instead wallowing it in, “Sometime around 1995,
Republicans in Washington stopped using the term ‘Beltway Bandits.’ “

The culmination of the realization that with victory go spoils was
then-House GOP leader Tom DeLay’s “K Street Project,” in which
Congress’ most powerful Republican basically told corporations and
trade associations, “If you your legislation passed, your voice heard
on Capitol Hill, hire GOP lobbyists and donate to GOP campaigns.” Even
by Washington standards, this was pretty brazen.

One who
responded to that offer was an aggressive and resourceful lobbyist
named Jack Abramoff, who hired two of DeLay’s top aides and began a
cash-fueled campaign of lavish trips, luxury boxes and entertainment
for lawmakers on behalf of his clients, mostly casino-owning Indian

On Tuesday, Abramoff plea bargained to three felonies _
fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe Rep. Robert Ney of Ohio, one
of the ’94 Republican revolutionaries but now comfortably installed as
chairman of a House committee.

Earlier, ex-DeLay aide and former
Abramoff partner, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty to conspiring to
bribe members of Congress and, like his old boss, he too is cooperating
with federal prosecutors.

Across Washington, politicians _
including President Bush and GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert _ were
returning or donating to charity campaign contributions from
Abramoff-related donors. And all of Washington, as the saying goes, is
waiting for the other shoe to drop.

News accounts say testimony
has already implicated half a dozen House and Senate members plus
congressional staffers and executive branch officials. The scandal has
already peripherally brushed the presidency in September when the White
House’s chief procurement officer, David Safavian, resigned after being
charged with lying and obstruction in the Abramoff probe.

Although some Democrats may have been involved, this scandal is so far
largely a Republican one. The party’s image was further tarnished
recently when GOP Rep. Randy Cunningham resigned after pleading guilty
to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors in an
unrelated case.

“Revolution” was always a grandiose term to
describe the GOP’s congressional takeover, but it does seem to prove
the adage that revolutionaries eventually become the people they
rebelled against.

The Washington Post has called this “the
biggest corruption scandal to infect Congress in a generation.” Whether
“biggest” remains to be seen, but influence-peddling bids fair to be
the capital’s oldest scandal. They came to do good. Stayed to do well.
And some got indicted.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,