Rep. J.D. Hayworth is among five members of Congress who will be the focus of the Justice Department’s initial investigation into influence peddling by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a Washington newspaper reported Wednesday.
Hayworth, R-Ariz., told the Tribune that neither he nor his staff has been contacted by investigators regarding any dealings they may have had with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty last week to fraud and conspiracy charges. The congressman said the investigation is an obvious step and one he welcomes.
"I think it’s important to have a complete and open airing and I welcome the chance. There is no ‘there’ there. I’ve done nothing wrong," Hayworth said of the report in The Washington Times that he is among the "first tier" of members of Congress who will fall under the scrutiny of federal agents probing whether Abramoff bought official actions in return for campaign contributions from his clients.
The Times reported Wednesday that the Justice Department is focusing on five members of Congress — three senators and two representatives — in the initial phases of its investigation into Abramoff’s influence.
Abramoff, once one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty last week to federal charges as part of a plea agreement that requires him to cooperate with investigators.
Hayworth ranked first among members of Congress who received donations tied to Abramoff and his clients, primarily Indian tribes that operate casinos, according to a study by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Hayworth has received $101,620 since 1999 from Abramoff clients either directly to his campaign or to his political action committee, TEAM Pac, according to the center. The next highest individual recipient of money linked to Abramoff or his clients is House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who got $69,000, according to the center.
Aside from Hayworth, the initial Justice Department investigation will focus on Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; as well as Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, according to the Times, which quoted unnamed sources.
A source working with the Justice Department on the investigation told the Times that Abramoff was questioned during several interviews about the lawmakers and their purported ties to the lobbyist and his former clients, the newspaper reported. Abramoff was asked whether any of the lawmakers performed "official acts" in exchange for campaign cash, according to the Times.
Hayworth said he has not taken any actions to specifically benefit the individual out-of-state tribes that gave money to him or his PAC. However, he did say that he has championed American Indian issues since he was elected to Congress in 1994. In his original district, one in four of Hayworth’s constituents were American Indians. In his current district, reconfigured through redistricting, Hayworth still represents the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and parts of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, both of which have casinos. His district also includes Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler and parts of Mesa.
Hayworth said he has never intervened in the "turf battles" in which out-of-state tribes have been pitted against each other over their rights to operate competing casinos. As a matter of policy, Hayworth said he does not intervene in any issue on behalf of individual out-of-state tribes.
"I haven’t heard from anybody at the Justice Department, but I understand the (department) would be accused of being derelict if it didn’t at least look at just about everybody that took contributions from Abramoff or any of his tribal clients," Hayworth said. "I have no concern about how wide or deep the inquiry will be."
Abramoff directly gave a total of $2,250 to Hayworth’s campaign through separate payments in 1998 and 1999, the congressman said. Hayworth donated that amount to the Salvation Army’s Hurricane Katrina relief fund. He will keep the tribal contributions.
Top recipients of campaign contributions from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his associates and clients since 1999.
TOP CONGRESSIONAL RECIPIENTS
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (Ariz.) $101,620
Rep. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) $69,000 Sen.
Thad Cochran (Miss.) $65,500
Sen. Conrad Burns (Mont.) $59,590
Rep. Richard Pombo (Calif.) $54,500
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (R.I.) $42,500
Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) $40,980 Rep.
Charles Rangel (N.Y.) $36,000
Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) $30,500
Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) $28,000
National Republican Congressional Committee $498,000
National Republican Senatorial Committee $436,500
Republican National Committee $326,000
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee $423,480
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee $354,700
Democratic National Committee $65,720
TOTAL ABRAMOFF CONTRIBUTIONS BY PARTY
SOURCE: Center for Responsive Politics