The Justice Department has informed former Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., it has closed its investigation of his dealings with disgraced lobbyist...
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has informed former Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., it has closed its investigation of his dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and will not bring criminal charges.
Burns, who works for a lobbying firm, narrowly lost his seat in 2006 because of political fallout over his dealings with Abramoff. A Justice Department spokesman said Thursday that prosecutors notified Burns’ attorney, Ralph Caccia, that “the department has concluded its investigation of former Sen. Burns.”
Burns was a major beneficiary of campaign contributions from Abramoff’s lobbying team and the casino-rich Indian tribes it represented, taking in more than $140,000, which he returned during the heat of his campaign. Several of Burns’ Senate staff members accepted trips and gifts from Abramoff’s lobbying team, and two went to work for him.
Federal prosecutors were investigating the pressure Burns brought on the Interior Department to give a $3 million 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 that when the effort failed, he earmarked the money in a 2004 appropriations bill.
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Unlike his employees and some other members of Congress caught up in the Abramoff investigation, 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 Abramoff investigation has resulted in a dozen convictions or guilty pleas from lobbyists, congressional employees, Interior officials and one Congress member, former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.
But a recent D.C. appeals-court decision could impede remaining aspects of the investigation, Justice lawyers said in a petition two weeks ago. In a case growing from an FBI search of the congressional office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., Justice is seeking Supreme Court review of how far the “speech or debate” clause of the Constitution goes in insulating members of Congress from legal action.
Because of the court ruling, the department told the high court, “investigations of corruption in the nation’s capital and elsewhere will be seriously and perhaps fatally stymied.”
Among the other inquiries affected by the appeals-court decision are Abramoff-related investigations of Reps. John Doolittle, R-Calif., and Tom Feeney, R-Fla., and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
Burns is associated with Gage, a D.C. lobbying firm founded by some of his former employees. He acts as an adviser rather than a lobbyist because he was subject to a one-year ban on lobbying after leaving the Senate.