Abramoff clearing DeLay

Robert Novak
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Posted: Mar 25, 2006 12:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has advised friends that he has no derogatory information about former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and is not implicating him as part of his plea bargain with federal prosecutors.

 Abramoff's guilty plea on fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy charges requires him to provide evidence about members of Congress. That led to speculation that this would mean trouble for DeLay, who faces money laundering and conspiracy charges in Texas. 

 However, Abramoff has not given a clean bill of health to any other congressman -- including Rep. Robert Ney, who has stepped down as chairman of the House Administration Committee. Ney was the only member of Congress named in court papers connected with Abramoff's guilty plea Jan. 4.

BUSH'S SPRING OFFENSIVE

 While President Bush hits the road to build support, his spring offensive is bringing conservative activists and businessmen into the White House for briefings in small groups.

 "I've been in the White House more in the last two weeks than I was in the last two years," Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform told this column. Norquist and conservative theoretician Jeffrey Bell were called into a meeting on the administration's embattled immigration bill. Also attending were representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Business.

 Bush has been criticized for being reclusive as he and the Republican Party tumble in the polls.

KERRY IN '08

 Al Gore's withdrawal from consideration for another presidential try in 2008 is viewed by Democratic insiders as strengthening Sen. John Kerry's bid for a second straight nomination, running to the left of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

 Even before Gore's surprising decision, Kerry political operatives were telling Democrats that the senator was a likely candidate. Kerry's 2004 running mate, John Edwards, is also inclined to run. But his campaign is menaced by a possible candidacy by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who would block Edwards in the Iowa caucuses.

 A footnote: Democratic politicians were surprised by the message from Sen. Clinton's camp that she henceforth would censor Bill Clinton's comments to prevent recurrence of their heavily publicized disagreements over Dubai Ports. While such restraint on the former president was considered desirable, it was viewed as something that should not be talked about publicly.

DEMOCRATIC TARGET

 Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has taken the unusual step of targeting his Republican counterpart, Rep. Tom Reynolds, for defeat in his upstate New York district this year. There is no record of a House campaign committee chairman ever being defeated for re-election by the opposition party.

 The DCCC claims secret polls showed the supposedly safe Republican district represented by Reynolds is competitive this year. Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, in 2004 won re-election to a fourth term with a surprisingly low 56 percent. His Democratic opponent was retired industrialist Jack Davis, who spent $1,250,000 of his own money in 2004 and is trying again.

 In its campaign to seize control of the House, the DCCC is aiming at three other upstate New York districts to take advantage of the region's low popularity ratings for President Bush and the Republican Party. The Democrats have targeted ninth-term Rep. James Walsh and fourth-term Rep. John Sweeney, plus the seat left vacant by 12-term Rep. Sherwood Boehlert's retirement.

STUMBLING IN JERSEY

 Republican State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., who has lost an early lead in his New Jersey campaign for the U.S. Senate, is engaged in a backstage power struggle with the influential, relatively conservative Republican organizations in Bergen and Passaic counties.

 Kean, whose father was a two-term governor, has identified himself with the pro-choice social liberals in the state party. A key role in his campaign is being played by former Rep. Bob Franks, considered a moderate during four terms in Congress.

 After starting the campaign ahead of appointed Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, Kean has fallen behind by four percentage points according to surveys last week by the Quinnipiac University poll. Democrats chided Kean for coming so late to his own Newark fund-raiser Monday that he missed the principal speech by Vice President Dick Cheney.