Probe of Former Senator Is Dropped
One of the lawmakers who came under scrutiny in the public corruption investigation stemming from the activities of lobbyist Jack Abramoff will not face federal criminal charges, The Post's Susan Schmidt reports. The Justice Department has informed former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana) that it has closed its investigation of his dealings with the disgraced lobbyist.
Burns, who now works for a lobbying firm, narrowly lost his Senate seat in 2006 as a result of political fallout over his dealings with Abramoff. Federal prosecutors were investigating the pressure that Burns brought on the Interior Department to give a $3 million federal school-construction grant intended for poor Indian tribes to the wealthy Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan, an Abramoff client. The Washington Post reported in 2005 that Burns pushed Interior to reverse its decision that the tribe did not qualify for the funds, and when that failed, he earmarked the money in a 2004 appropriations bill.
A Justice Department spokesman said today that prosecutors had notified Burns' attorney Ralph Caccia that "the department has concluded its investigation of former Sen. Burns."
Burns had been a major beneficiary of campaign contributions from Abramoff's lobbying team and the casino-rich Indian tribes they represented, taking in more than $140,000 -- money he returned during the heat of his losing political campaign. Several Senate staffers who worked for Burns accepted trips and gifts from Abramoff's lobbying team, and two went to work for him.
Unlike his staffers and some other members of Congress caught up in the Abramoff probe, Burns was never accused of accepting personal gifts or favors from the lobbyist -- a key element in many of the prosecutions growing out the Abramoff investigation.
The Justice Department's wide-ranging probe has so far resulted in a dozen convictions or guilty pleas from lobbyists, congressional staffers, Interior Department officials and one member of Congress -- former Ohio Republican Robert Ney.
Burns is now associated with Gage, a D.C. lobbying firm founded by some of his former staffers. His role there has been as advisor rather than lobbyist because he was subject to a one-year ban on lobbying after leaving the Senate. Neither he nor his lawyer returned calls seeking comment today.
-- Susan Schmidt
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