Bush backs scandal-ridden Montana Senator

President George W. Bush expressed support Monday for Sen. Conrad Burns, despite the Senator’s many links to scandal-ridden Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist at the heart of an influence-peddling scheme.

Speaking at a fund-raising event for Burns’ re-election campaign at a Washington hotel, Bush praised the Montana lawmaker as a strong supporter on national security and tax relief.

“He’s the kind of person the people of Montana need here. They need somebody who’s steadfast when it comes to defending the country, who’s wise about how we spend your money,” Bush said.

“I’m proud to stand by this man. I strongly urge the people of Montana to reelect Conrad Burns to the United States Senate,” he said.

Burns, who faces a tough fight for re-election in November, became ensnared in the corruption investigation involving Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud in January and is cooperating with prosecutors.

In December, Burns said he would return $150,000 he had received from Abramoff-related sources over the past several years. Insisting they were “legal and fully disclosed,” he said they had undermined public confidence in the government.

In Vanity Fair magazine’s April edition, Abramoff said he worked closely with many top Republicans, despite their claims to the contrary. According to the article, Abramoff said Burns was especially cooperative.

Jason Klindt, a spokesman for Burns’ campaign, said it had asked the Justice Department to review documents in the matter. “He (Burns) has done nothing wrong and the sooner it’s reviewed the sooner his name will be cleared,” Klindt said.