Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FBI In Talks With GOP Rep Feeney In Abramoff Scandal

FBI asks Tom Feeney about trip with Abramoff

Early edition: Feeney's office said the congressman is cooperating voluntarily.

Published April 23, 2007

WASHINGTON - The FBI has asked U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney for information about his dealings with Jack Abramoff as part of its ongoing investigation into the lobbyist convicted of defrauding clients.

FBI agent Kevin Luebke refused to say whether Feeney, a Republican from the Orlando area, is under federal investigation.

Federal agents also have asked the St. Petersburg Times for an email sent to the newspaper by Feeney's office describing a golfing trip the congressman took with Abramoff to Scotland in 2003.

Feeney did not return calls for comment Monday. But his Washington office released a statement to the Times late Monday.

"Rep. Feeney considers this an embarrassing episode in his 17-year career as an elected official and an expensive lesson for him as a public servant," according to the statement.

Feeney is one of three House members who accompanied Abramoff to Scotland on trips that included rounds of golf at the legendary Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews.

The others are: former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who is serving prison time for corruption, and former House Republican leader Tom DeLay, indicted in Texas for alleged improper fundraising, is under investigation.

"The Justice Department has been investigating activity surrounding Jack Abramoff," according to Feeney's statement. "The Justice Department has contacted Rep. Feeney to request more information regarding this matter and he is pleased to voluntarily cooperate."

The FBI contacted the Times last week to ask for the February 2006 email that Feeney's then chief of staff Jason Roe wrote to the newspaper in response to a series of questions about interactions between Feeney and Abramoff. The Times has referred the FBI's request to its attorney.

Roe, now deputy campaign manager for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said Monday he has not been contacted by the FBI and has no knowledge of an investigation. But, he said, he was not surprised to hear federal agents are asking questions.

"I'm sure they're doing due diligence," he said. "I guess it would be my expectation they would look into everything" associated with Abramoff.

Feeney, 48, who spent a decade in the Florida Legislature where he was speaker of the House, has paid $23,000 in legal fees this year - more than any other expense - according to his latest campaign finance reports.

"Rep. Feeney anticipates voluntarily cooperating with the Justice Department in any further investigation of this trip and looks forward to promptly resolving this matter," according to Feeney's statement.

The U.S. House announced in January that Feeney violated its rules by apparently letting Abramoff pay for the trip to Scotland. Feeney agreed to pay the cost of the trip - $5,643 - to the U.S. Treasury.

Feeney said he thought a conservative think tank - the National Center for Public Policy Research - was paying for the trip. He said he learned later from newspaper reporters that Abramoff may have paid in violation of House rules that forbid members from taking free trips from lobbyists and asked the ethics committee to investigate.

"Any assertion that this office knew Abramoff paid for the Scotland trip is a g--d----- lie," Roe wrote in the email being sought by the FBI. The email was quoted in a newspaper article last year.

Records and media reports show lawmakers - including Ney and DeLay - have helped Abramoff with his lobbying.

Last week, Rep. John Doolittle, R--Calif., gave up his coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee after the FBI raided his home.

In last year's email, Roe vehemently denied any improper relationship with Abramoff as a result of the trip.

"Tom has never written a letter for Abramoff. Abramoff has never been in our office. Abramoff has never asked anything of us," Roe wrote in the email. "There is no accusation of a quid pro quo. No quid pro quo exists."

Feeney received $4,000 from Abramoff and three of his clients but recently gave the $1,000 from Abramoff to charity. Money also went the other direction: Feeney paid the tab at Abramoff's Washington restaurant, Signatures, at least three times, twice when the costs were more than $2,000, according to Feeney's campaign finance reports.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Times staff writer Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or 202-463-0576.

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