Sunday, February 22, 2009

Abramoff Investigation Inches Toward the South

The Jack Abramoff scandal apparently was a coast-to-coast affair. But a breaking story from James Grimaldi, of The Washington Post, shines light on the scandal's strong Southern flavor.

Ann M. Copland, a former legislative aide to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services fraud in connection to the Abramoff case.

Copland makes it 20 people who have been convicted or charged with crimes in the Abramoff affair. Here is a running list kept by The Washington Post.

At least four people on the list have strong connections to Alabama and/or Mississippi. Joining Copland are:

* Michael Scanlon--A former aide to Alabama Governor Bob Riley when Riley served in the U.S. Congress, Scanlon was one of Abramoff's top partners and the case's strongest connection to Alabama.

* Robert Coughlin--One of "Abramoff's friendlies" in the Bush Department of Justice, Coughlin was heavily involved in efforts to secure funding for a jail for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, an Abramoff client. Coughlin is cooperating with investigators as part of his plea agreement. Given that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley reportedly received $13 million for his 2002 campaign from Mississippi Choctaws, one wonders what kind of Alabama-related dirt Coughlin might be able to dish.

* Kevin Ring--A close associate of Coughlin, Ring almost certainly has knowledge about Abramoff-related events in the South. Ring generated huge volumes of e-mail related to the Abramoff scandal, and some experts say he might be the key to cracking open the case.

Here's what we had to say on April 29, 2008, upon writing about the Coughlin plea and what it could mean in the Deep South:

What we don't know is this: Just how important will this story become and what light might it shine on the prosecutions of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi?

Much is still to be learned about the Coughlin case. As part of his plea deal, Coughlin has agreed to cooperate with an investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General. That makes me think a number of Republicans, some in Alabama and Mississippi, might be doing serious squirming right about now.

The charge against Ann M. Copland is likely to make certain Deep South GOPers squirm a little more.

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