Prosecutors are investigating the role of DeLay, who once described Abramoff as one of his closest friends, a fact that was revealed in a recent filing with the British government asking for information about a trip that Abramoff organized for DeLay in 2000. Dozens more senators and congressmen benefited from Abramoff's largess in recent years, and many of them later supported initiatives for Abramoff's clients. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., and Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., held fundraisers in Abramoff's skyboxes at sporting events without properly disclosing the in-kind contribution, a possible violation of campaign finance rules. Others, like Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., received $137,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his tribal clients, and then helped one of Abramoff's clients obtain federal grant funding, a relationship that was first reported by the Washington Post.
"We know we have a number of members here, and that number may be more than two or three or four," says Ornstein, referring to the scope of the inquiry. "Right now I would be sweating bullets."
Now, six members of Congress -- not so many when you consider there are more than 500 hundred of them. But note the standard. Presumably, these are the ones FBI agents and federal prosecutors are looking to possibly charge with criminal offenses and send to prison.
Given how common a practice it is for big contributions to secure votes on key legislation in today's Washington (and yesterday's Washington too, for that matter), you've really got to cross the line in a big way to get into legal trouble for taking bribes, as already seems to have happened with Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH). The DOJ doesn't enforce House ethics rules (then again, nobody does anymore. but that's another story). Nor are there laws against general sleazeballery.
So how big a swath will the Abramoff scandal cut in the House? Six under scrutiny for actual charges? Figure there are ten times that many tarred with his brush, revealed to be deep in his web of corruption, on the freebie gravy train, even if they violated no specific laws which could land them in jail. How does the Abramoff scandal play in their districts?