House Democrats are expanding their investigation into ties between jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House and have contacted several Abramoff associates recently about testifying to Congress.
The contacts were disclosed Tuesday by a House Democratic aide and an attorney familiar with the matter who both spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is ongoing.
The aide declined to identify those the committee wants to talk to. Last month committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., indicated he intended to seek testimony from people who'd worked as lobbyists with Abramoff as well as from former and current White House and administration officials who might have knowledge of Abramoff's connections with the White House.
A committee spokeswoman declined comment. A message for a White House spokesman wasn't immediately returned.
The Government Reform Committee released a report last year saying that Abramoff and his associates had 485 lobbying contacts with White House officials between January 2001 and March 2004.
But Waxman, who became committee chairman in January after Democrats retook control of Congress, says important questions remain unanswered. These include whether White House officials paid for sports and concert tickets and meals they got from Abramoff and his associates, and whether they took official actions as a result, Waxman says.
Abramoff last year pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other charges and admitted defrauding his clients. A two-year investigation into his influence peddling has led to the conviction of a congressman along with 10 former House aides and Bush administration officials. One sitting congressman, GOP Rep. John Doolittle of California, remains under investigation.
Susan Ralston, a key aide to presidential political strategist Karl Rove who had worked for Abramoff, resigned last October after the Government Reform report showed she had extensive contacts with Abramoff.
Waxman wants Ralston to testify, but she is refusing to do so without a grant of immunity, according to a memo Waxman released last month after lawyers for his panel questioned her in private. Meanwhile Waxman wants to talk to others.
Abramoff associates named in his committee's report last year as having extensive contacts with the White House include Neil Volz and Tony Rudy, who have both pleaded guilty to federal charges; Kevin Ring, a one-time Doolittle aide who is under federal investigation; and Todd Boulanger and Shawn Vasell, both still lobbyists.
Boulanger declined comment. Neither Vasell nor Ring's attorneys immediately returned calls for comment.