Federal prosecutors may have their sites on former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) after getting a guilty plea from his former chief of staff
Istook was not accused of any criminal conduct. But the court papers charging Istook's former chief of staff, John Albaugh, portray Istook as an apparent participant in Abramoff's influence peddling scheme.
From the federal information court document
On or about March 19, 2003, at the suggestion of defendant ALBAUGH, [Istook] called Abramoff, thanking him in advance for use of one of his FedEx suites for an upcoming fundraising event. During that call, [Istook] also asked Abramoff which particular projects Firm B's clients wanted in the transportation bill. Abramoff thereafter sent an email to the lobbyists on his team telling them that [Istook] had "basically asked what we want in the transportation bill" and instructed the lobbyists to "make sure we load up our entire Christmas list."
The alleged telephone call is at odds with Istook's own account of his contacts with Abramoff. He told
a reporter in April 2006 that he'd never spoken to Abramoff on the phone:
In response to the Abramoff association, Istook referred to the Abramoff scandal as "shameful, pure and simple" and said Abramoff was never in his office, spoke to him on the phone, or had any relationship with him other than a few conversations.
"Jack Abramoff is a criminal," Istook said. "When I found out he was a criminal, not only did I give away what he had personally donated to me, I went the extra mile. I gave away any money from anyone that had any vague sort of connection to him."
"The point is, I don't think you can judge people by the fact that someone who contributed to them was a wrongdoer," Istook said. "The question is, did I do anything improper, and I did not."
The court papers charging Albaugh include several instances where Istook, referred to as "Representative 4," received benefits from Abramoff's lobbying firm.
At Albaugh's request, the prosecutors said, a lobbyist from Abramoff's firm hosted a fundraising dinner for Istook at Abramoff's Signatures restaurant. The congressman's campaign did not reimburse the lobbyist or disclose the cost -- about $10,000 -- as an in-kind contribution on financial disclosure forms, prosecutors said.
At Albaugh's request, Jack Abramoff provided $5,000 "to satisfy the initial funding obligation of a political action committee established by [Istook]," according to the filing.
Also at Albaugh's request, lobbyist from Abramoff's firm helped arrange for Istook to use luxury suites an American Idol concert event and later for a Washington Redskins football game. Itsook's campaign did not reimburse the lobbyists until more than two years later, after the Abramoff scandal was attracting attention in the press, prosecutor noted.
Istook left the House in 2007 after an unsuccessful bid for the Oklahoma governor's office.