WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Sen. Conrad Burns is no longer part of a federal investigation of jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Burns, R-Mont., narrowly lost re-election to a fourth term in 2006 after Democrats made his relationship with Abramoff a central issue. Abramoff is the key figure in a corruption investigation that has led to convictions of a former congressman, legislative aides, lobbyists and officials in the Bush administration.
Burns said in a statement that he “never doubted that the baseless and politically motivated charges leveled against me would be found to be without merit.”
“My family has paid a great price during this three-year period and we are thankful it is now over,” he said.
Ralph Caccia, a lawyer who has represented Burns in the political corruption probe, said the Justice Department had notified him of Burns’ status in the investigation. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr confirmed that Burns was no longer part of it.
Abramoff’s sentencing in the Capitol Hill influence peddling case has repeatedly been delayed because he is helping prosecutors. He is serving prison time for an unrelated fraudulent casino deal.
Burns had accepted about $150,000 in contributions from Abramoff, his clients and associates. He later gave that money away after Democrats criticized his connections to the lobbyist.
Some of Burns’ staff also had connections to Abramoff. His former chief of staff, Will Brooke, left Burns’ office to work for the lobbyist’s firm after taking a trip to the 2001 Super Bowl in Abramoff’s jet. Another employee worked for Abramoff before and after he worked for Burns’ Senate office.
In the statement, Burns said he made nearly 10 years of records from his Senate office available to the government for review, including all electronic records. He said he was never interviewed as part of the investigation.
During the 2006 campaign, Burns and his staff repeatedly said he had not been contacted by the Justice Department. When the senator first hired Caccia through his campaign account, his campaign spokesman said the lawyer was simply helping to review facts in the case.
Burns works for Gage, a lobbying firm founded by his former chief of staff Leo A. Giacometto.
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