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Mark Zachares — the former Capitol Hill staffer who pleaded guilty last month to a conspiracy charge — was recommended for his job with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by Duane Gibson, who had left the panel shortly before Zachares’ arrival and gone to work with ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig, according to sources familiar with the events.

According to Zachares’ guilty plea, he became friendly with Abramoff as a result of the lobbyist’s work for the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, where Zachares was secretary of the Department of Labor and Immigration.

Beginning in 2000, Abramoff began looking for work for Zachares in Washington, D.C., according to the guilty plea, and “in June 2002, with the assistance of Abramoff and others, Zachares was hired onto the staff of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.”

One of those others was Gibson, who passed Zachares’ name on to his former employers at the committee, said sources familiar with the case.

Gibson had worked for Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) when the Congressman chaired the House Resources Committee from 1995 to 2000, then moved to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when Young became chairman of that panel in 2001. He left the committee in May 2002 to join Greenberg Traurig; Young hired Zachares in June.

Like Zachares — a former oil rig worker in Prudhoe Bay — Gibson had a background in Alaska and the Marianas. Gibson’s first job after law school was as a law clerk in the Alaska Superior Court, and he worked for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) from 1989 to 1994.

As counsel on the Resources Committee in 1999 and 2000, Gibson led an investigation into Clinton administration officials in the Interior Department who improperly used the resources of the agency to attack Republicans who opposed tougher labor laws in the Marianas. The Interior Department’s inspector general concluded in 2000 that David North, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, had provided Democratic challengers with materials critical of Republican Members of Congress who had traveled to the Marianas — including then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Gibson also gained a bit of notoriety during the disputed presidential election of 2000, when he and a handful of other Republican staffers protested at the Miami-Dade County polling headquarters as election officials attempted to move the recount of ballots to a closed conference room. The incident was known as the “Brooks Brothers riot,” a reference to the image of the well-dressed Republicans shouting in the election board hallway.

Zachares ultimately worked for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from June 2002 to Nov. 1, 2005, during which time he worked with Abramoff to steer clients to Greenberg Traurig and to assist Abramoff’s existing clients, with the intent that Abramoff ultimately would hire him to lobby on behalf of those clients, according to the April 24 plea agreement.

Zachares also accepted thousands of dollars in cash, sports tickets, golf trips and free meals from Abramoff.

Young has refused to comment since Zachares’ plea, and a Republican spokesman for the Resources Committee declined to comment on Zachares’ hiring as well. Zachares’ lawyer declined to comment and Gibson did not return several telephone calls requesting comment on this story.

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