Expect even more explosive disclosures of corruption on Capitol Hill to come soon as Justice Department investigations move into high gear.
Under recent plea agreements, both former Washington lobbyist Michael Scanlon and disgraced Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., agreed to tell prosecutors everything they know about friends and associates involved in misdeeds. What they’ve confided isn’t yet known, but the Justice Department has reassigned more than 50 prosecutors to gumshoe the evidence.
Some very messy revelations could come as early as next month, when ex-Washington lobbying powerhouse Jack Abramoff goes on trial in Florida with his one-time business partner Adam Kidan. The charges involve phony financing of the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casino _ an offshore gaming concern wrangled from entrepreneur Gus Boulis, who was later assassinated by a Mob-connected hit squad.
Meantime, prosecutors in Washington are piecing together the alleged involvement of Scanlon and Abramoff in finding lucrative lobbying jobs for former aides to House Republican Leader Tom DeLay as well as the contracts awarded to several defense contractors that bribed Cunningham.
When he heads off to the slammer for pocketing more than $2 million in bribes, at least Cunningham will have the comfort of knowing he will have a congressional pension as a post-prison cushion.
Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union says that under the lavish benefits that lawmakers reward themselves, Cunningham is entitled to at least $36,000 a year in pension benefits after serving 17 years in Congress. Sepp said it could be much higher _ $64,000 a year _ if he chose to add in his 21 years of military service. If Cunningham made the maximum contributions from his salary to the congressional thrift plan _ the Capitol’s version of a 401(k) plan, he could also have a $274,000 nest egg.
Other benefits given ex-lawmakers: medical care for life (something the prison system will provide for the duration of Cunningham’s yet-to-be-determined prison sentence) and a life insurance policy. House rules also give all former members lifetime gym privileges.
Growing hostility between China and Japan is causing heartburn in Washington, which currently is preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan.
Foggy Bottom’s diplomats trace the tensions to efforts by both energy-depleted Asian giants to exploit undersea natural-gas deposits in the waters between them, and Japanese jealousy over China’s rapidly growing wealth. Adding fuel to the fire are periodic anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and new Japanese textbooks that play down the extent of Japan’s wartime atrocities toward the Chinese.
Washington can ill afford an Asian flare-up, and diplomatic efforts are under way to dampen passions.
Two developments on Washington’s fashion front:
Returning from a global peacemaking jaunt, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced a furious _ and very curious _ press quizzing over her dress size. A reporter writing a profile insisted on ironclad confirmation that Rice is a size 6, and she couldn’t get the fashion-conscious secretary to admit publicly what size she wears.
Meantime, freshman Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, says she’s learned a lot after being thrust into the national spotlight for her comments against the hawkish Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., in the debate over the war in Iraq. Pressed by a Cincinnati radio station to be more specific, she responded: “Not to wear the red dress.” Schmidt was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” as a “1970s’ gymnast” for the dress.
Anti-gambling forces in Congress are vowing to scuttle any Katrina reconstruction loans going to sinful casinos. Long-time gambling foe Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., says giving government loans to casinos and other gambling interests while Congress cuts funding for social programs isn’t moral.
Look for contraception to be the latest plan to control the population of wild horses in the West. The Bureau of Land Management has signed off on a plan by the Humane Society of the United States to use vaccines to inhibit horse fertility rates to prevent the population of an estimated 32,000 wild horses from growing.
(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com)