Abramoff claimed credit when it wasn’t due

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff wanted the credit for getting rid of the chief federal prosecutor for U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean, but he actually played no role, a Justice Department report said Friday.

By the time Abramoff and his lobbying associates sought to get involved in choosing a new U.S. attorney for Guam and the Northern Marianas in 2002, the decision already had been made, said Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

Nevertheless, Abramoff instructed his colleagues to impress clients on Guam that he influenced the pick of Leonardo Rapadas “when he clearly understood that he had no involvement,” Fine said.

Fine’s investigation also found no evidence that Frederick Black lost his job as the interim U.S. attorney on Guam because he had been looking into Abramoff’s work for local judges.

Black told FBI agents investigating the wide-ranging influence-peddling scandal spawned by Abramoff that he was replaced because he stirred political controversy by starting his own, earlier probe of Abramoff. The Guam investigation stalled because _ as Black himself noted in 2003 _ other local public corruption probes were more pressing, Fine said.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges in connection with his lobbying work. He is cooperating with an investigation that has so far produced five convictions.

But Black’s belief that Abramoff helped drive him out of his job was reasonable, Fine said, given Abramoff’s attempt to claim credit for influencing the choice of Black’s successor.

Abramoff made no secret of his desire to have Black replaced, at one point telling associates he didn’t care if the new U.S. attorney was “Bozo the clown,” Fine said.

The report also contained evidence of Abramoff’s strong ties to the Bush White House. One White House political official, Leonard Rodriguez, told Fine’s investigators he kept Abramoff aware of information relevant to Guam “at the behest of Ken Mehlman, the White House Political Director,” the report said.

There was no explanation of why Mehlman would have wanted the information shared with Abramoff.

Mehlman, now chairman of the Republican National Committee, often received and passed on such information in his White House role, said Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the RNC.

Fine referred one matter to the FBI and his counterpart at the Interior Department for further investigation: the possibility that an Interior Department official leaked Abramoff a post-9/11 security review of the Northern Marianas that recommended extending federal immigration laws to the islands.

Black supported the change, while Abramoff opposed it.

The Marianas, known for their low-paying garment factories, hired Abramoff to keep the islands’ workers exempt from U.S. laws like the minimum wage.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who has authored legislation to extend those laws to the islands, said, “We don’t consider this issue a closed book. We still have concerns about political influence over the handling of the Marianas, both in Congress and in the administration. The reference to Ken Mehlman, a Republican political operative, in the IG report is a concern, for example.”


On the Net:

Justice Department inspector general: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig

© 2006 The Associated Press