Due Vigilance in the Abramoff Scandal
The influence peddling scandal surrounding the indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff is at a critical point. Noel Hillman, the respected Justice Department public integrity chief who bird-dogged the inquiry for two years, has been nominated for a federal judgeship by the White House. The timing is curious; the nomination came only weeks after the investigation advanced significantly with Mr. Abramoff's plea-bargain agreement to talk about his dealings with capital politicians.
It is imperative that the departure of Mr. Hillman not signal a letup in the inquiry, particularly as reports grow of Mr. Abramoff's dealings with the White House. The lobbyist, who raised at least $100,000 for the Bush campaign, attended some "staff level" meetings, the White House says, but no details have been offered about this nor about Mr. Abramoff's relationship with Karl Rove, the president's political guru. Mr. Rove hired an Abramoff assistant as his White House aide but describes the lobbyist as only a "casual acquaintance." A red flag already is up over Mr. Abramoff's dealings with David Safavian, the White House's former top procurement official, who was charged with lying to investigators about an Abramoff golf junket to Scotland.
A difficult task awaits Andrew Lourie, the career prosecutor who has been named acting chief of the public integrity section. His boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the former White House counsel deeply enmeshed in Bush policy and politics, must show he is absolutely removed from the Abramoff investigation. Otherwise, the pressure will only grow from critics and the public that the investigation be handed over to a special counsel free to pursue the scandal wherever it leads in the Capitol or the administration.