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GOP Quiet on Abramoff

With former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff now indicted on federal wire- and mail-fraud charges, Republicans close to the once-powerful lobbyist are mostly laying low amid a harsh media spotlight, while a few reiterated their support.

Most Republican lawmakers who received personal contributions from Abramoff or his wife in recent years ducked questions about whether they would keep the cash in the 24 hours after the indictment was announced in Miami.

So far, no Members appear to have returned recent contributions from the lobbyist. On top of millions of dollars he helped raise for key lawmakers, Abramoff has shelled out $300,000 in personal contributions since 1995.

Spokesmen for lawmakers contacted for this story mostly cited the August lull and the trouble that causes for tracking down their bosses in declining to comment.

Democrats, meanwhile, wasted no time trying to score political advantage with the development in the scandal, which had already been a rallying point for the party as it crafts an ethics-based message heading into the 2006 elections.

Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas), for example, used the news to launch a fresh attack on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), a close Abramoff associate being challenged in 2006 by Lampson.

“Sometimes the old adage, ‘You tell a person by the company he keeps,’ is very appropriate,” Lampson said in a statement. “I think it certainly applies here. Southeast Texans have had enough. We’re tired of the shady activity from Tom DeLay, and it’s time for a change.”

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Democrats would have a tough time making Abramoff a national issue in House races.

“I don’t know of any Member of Congress who lost because of something some other Member of Congress did or did not do,” he said.

While many Members have sought to distance themselves from Abramoff in recent months, some of his Congressional associates appear determined to stick by him even after last week’s indictment.

A spokesman for Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) repeated earlier statements that the lawmaker would keep a $2,000 contribution from Abramoff because he considers the lobbyist a friend.

“They’ve known each other since college, and we have no plans to give it back,” Cannon spokesman Charles Isom said. “He’s not running away from him in the sense they’ve known each other a long time.”

Cannon serves on the House Resources Committee, which oversees American Indian tribes. Abramoff gave $2,000 to the campaign of the panel’s chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), and another $5,000 to his leadership PAC. A spokeswoman for Pombo did not return a call for comment.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is a longtime Abramoff friend. Abramoff reportedly listed Rohrabacher as a personal reference in his bid to borrow $60 million to purchase the SunCruz casinos in Florida in 2000 — the deal that triggered last week’s indictment.

On Friday, Rohrabacher defended his relationship with Abramoff in a statement, while also making clear that he is not yet ready to renounce Abramoff.

“There was no reason for me or anyone else to doubt Jack Abramoff’s integrity at the time” of the SunCruz deal, Rohrabacher said in a statement. “I still think he’s getting a raw deal on most of what is being said about him.”

Rohrabacher spokeswoman Rebecca Rudman said that, to her knowledge, her boss had not been contacted by the Justice Department about the SunCruz issue.

Similarly, Brian Walsh, spokesman for Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), said: “No federal investigators have contacted the Congressman on this or any other matter connected to Jack Abramoff.”

Ney played a small part in the SunCruz saga, inserting comments in the Congressional Record criticizing Konstantinos Boulis and praising Adam Kidan at the request of Michael Scanlon, an Abramoff ally and former DeLay aide.

DeLay’s office declined to comment on the indictment, while the office of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) — who received sizable donations from Abramoff, his business associates and Indian tribes who were his clients — did not return a call seeking comment Friday.