Donald Lambro

When I asked several ethics and campaign finance attorneys what they thought of the latest disclosures, they said Reid and the Democrats have some explaining to do.

Lawrence Noble, executive director and general counsel at the Center for Responsive Politics (a nonpartisan watchdog group that is tracking the money trail in the scandal), said "this puts Reid in a very awkward position. Reid has to be willing to answer the same questions everyone else has been asking of the Republicans."

One of the questions Reid needs to answer: "Is there any connection between the contributions he received and the action he took, including the letters that he wrote" for Abramoff's Indian clients, Noble said.

"When the public sees any member of Congress taking action that close to a campaign contribution, they are going to be very skeptical," Noble told me.

Other ethics attorneys said Reid's problems go beyond the deep legal implications of the disclosures to the Democrats' destroyed credibility. Reid has been caught in the web of his own denials. "The problem for Reid is not that he necessarily did anything illegal or unethical," said Jan Baran, a Washington-based Republican campaign-finance attorney. "The problem is that he has not been straightforward about all his dealings with Abramoff's firm."

Attorney Cleta Mitchell, who advises Republican clients on such ethical matters, thinks Reid has hoisted himself on his own petard.

"His definition of corruption is having done things for Abramoff's clients and receiving money from them, but he's also been a recipient of contributions from Abramoff's clients after having done things to help them," she said.

This is the glass house Reid and the Democrats have constructed in the lobbying scandal they believe will help return them to political power. But these latest disclosures showing Reid's own culpability have become the rock that has brought it crashing down around them.

The 2006 midterm election year is off to a very bad start for Reid and his party, and my sense is that it's not going to get any better for them in the months to come.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.