The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail, Part 2

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The case against Tom DeLay just got stronger.

Back in December, the Washington Post dropped a bomb on the now-deposed Majority Leader with their article on the U.S. Family Network, an organization that posed as a grassroots outfit, but was really a slush fund pumped full of cash by Jack Abramoff clients trying to curry favor and buy favors from DeLay. Well, a new piece from the National Journal (unfortunately, not online) adds some crucial details to the story and provides much more concrete evidence that DeLay was bought.

First, here’s what we knew from the Post’s story from December.

Ed Buckham founded the U.S. Family Network in 1996 while still serving as DeLay’s chief of staff. By 1997, Abramoff’s clients, the Northern Marianas and the Mississippi Choctaw Indians, were dumping buckets of money into it. The biggest payoff was the $1 million from two executives of Naftasib, a Russian energy giant. Buckham actually admitted to the U.S. Family Network’s director that the money was paid to influence DeLay’s vote on an IMF loan for Russia.

Peter Stone’s new piece in the National Journal reveals another bundle of money from the Russians and what they got for it. Stone reports that the Russian energy execs invested $299,975 in DeLay back in 1997, before they really took the plunge later with the $1 million. $250,000 of that came (as a reward or a bribe, I’ll let you decide) just two weeks before DeLay flew to Moscow with Abramoff to see the sights with Abramoff’s Russian clients.

I’ll let Stone tell it from there:

In June 1997, Ed Buckham traveled to Moscow, in part to prepare for DeLay and Abramoff’s August visit. “Jack was proving to the Russians that he could delegate high-ranking officials to do what he wanted,” a former associate of Abramoff’s said in describing Buckham’s trip.

The following month, [Alexander] Koulakovsky, Naftasib’s general manager [and Abramoff’s client], briefly visited the United States, attending a July 18 luncheon in Houston with about 10 oil and gas executives. DeLay was unable to attend because of obligations in Washington, so he asked his wife, Christine DeLay, to go in his place. DeLay’s then-Deputy Chief of Staff Susan Hirschmann also attended. DeLay attorney Richard Cullen said in an interview that the congressman “viewed [the luncheon meeting] as a routine way to showcase Houston to businessmen interested in expanding trade.” Cullen said he did not know who requested the meeting. The meeting has attracted the attention of federal investigators, according to a source familiar with the Abramoff probe. On July 24, a week after the Houston lunch, the network received its single largest contribution that year, $250,000 from Nationscorp/James & Sarch [the Russians’ front company], according to a source familiar with the group’s donations.

About two weeks later, DeLay and a few top staffers, including Hirschmann and Buckham, left for a six-day trip to Moscow that was sponsored by another small conservative group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, on whose board Abramoff later served. Abramoff joined the others in Moscow.

So put it together: DeLay’s chief aide gets $250,000 paid into his front operation by Abramoff clients. Two weeks later, DeLay is having dinner in Russia with those Abramoff clients.

Not convinced? Let’s remember who we’re dealing with. This is a choice vignette describing the folks in question, from the Post:

A former Abramoff associate said the two [Naftasib] executives “wanted to contribute to DeLay” and clearly had the resources to do it. At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow “what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning” and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays “would go to jail and you would go to jail.”

So they took care to be a little less showy in the bribes. But it looks like DeLay might go to jail anyway.

Next up: how Buckham started up his lobbying firm as a wholly owned subsidiary of Abramoff.