Two Senate Democrats are calling on Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s activities in two Pacific island territories.
In a letter made public Thursday, Sens. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Ken Salazar of Colorado also asked Gonzales to provide the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a secret Justice Department report on security risks in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Bingaman and Salazar serve on the committee, which has oversight of the island territories.
Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to tax, bribery and conspiracy charges and is awaiting sentencing, bragged in a 2001 e-mail to his clients in Saipan that he would use his connections in the attorney general’s office to block the anticipated report lest it fuel congressional efforts to place new immigration restrictions on the Northern Marianas.
In the e-mail, first reported in the Los Angeles Times, Abramoff boasted that a top aide to then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft had been a recent guest in his box at a Washington Redskins football game and had mentioned the report.
In their letter, the senators noted that the report was prompted by concerns that the islands might provide an entryway for terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mainland. Also noted in the report were the substantial U.S. military assets in the Pacific islands that could be at risk.
“We believe an independent investigation is needed of the possible access given to Mr. Abramoff” of the security risk report, the letter states. Citing media reports, the letter mentions “possible improper or illegal activity by Department of Justice officials in discussing this report with a lobbyist.”
Abramoff entered a guilty plea in January to charges that he and a client bilked Indian tribes of millions of dollars and tried to improperly influence members of Congress and their aides. But the details cited in Abramoff’s plea deal made only brief references to his activities on behalf of his Pacific island clients, who also paid him millions of dollars in fees.
The letter to Gonzales also calls for the special prosecutor to investigate Abramoff’s role in the demotion of Frederick Black, the former acting U.S. attorney for the two Pacific island territories. The demotion came at the same time Black had launched a probe into the secret hiring of Abramoff by Guam court officials. Payments to Abramoff were channeled through another lobbyist.
The senators noted that after Black was replaced, the Abramoff probe came to an abrupt end. They also stated that because the allegations directly involved current and former Justice Department officials, an outside prosecutor was necessary to ensure a full and impartial investigation of the matter.
Abramoff, as part of his plea agreement, has agreed to assist federal prosecutors in their broader investigation of possible bribery of members of Congress and their staffs stemming from his lobbying activities.
Officials had no immediate response to the request for a special prosecutor. Gonzales has said that career prosecutors are handling the Abramoff investigation and that he does not see any need to recuse himself.