This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Jan. 3, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALICE FISHER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: As admitted by [Jack] Abramoff, his actions often produced the influence that he sought. For example, as he admitted today, Abramoff had a congressman insert statements in the Congressional Record, had a congressman endorse a wireless telephone contract for the House of Representatives, had a congressman agree to seek passage of legislation to help Abramoff’s clients.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, apart from having a little difficulty with his name, it’s Abramoff, the assistant attorney general there made it sound as dramatic as possible. But was Jack Abramoff really as successful as it sounded today in influencing members of Congress?
For answers, we turn to we turn to FOX News contributor and Washington Post columnist Jeff BIRNBAUM:, who has been working on the story. Hi Jeff, Happy New Year.
JEFF BIRNBAUM:, WASHINGTON POST: Happy New Year, Brit.
HUME: Nice to see you. First of all, I was struck by the pictures of Abramoff walking out of that building today, dressed head-to-toe in black, at least topcoat and black hat. If you were a lawyer advising a guy who just pleaded guilty, would you have him wear him wear a black hat?
BIRNBAUM:: No, he looks out of sort of out of "The Sopranos," doesn’t he?
HUME: I mean, I don’t know the guy, but he didn’t look that way otherwise.
BIRNBAUM:: The other possibility is a Hasidic Jew, which he is an Orthodox Jew.
HUME: Oh, he is?
BIRNBAUM:: Yes, which would -- they can also dress that way. So take your choice, I think a lot of people will look at Abramoff in different ways.
HUME: Well, I guess so. Let me just ask you about the three things that she cited there as examples. I mean, it seems fairly clear, and we’ll get to this in a minute, that he swindled the day lights out of his clients, given what he’s admitted to.
But the question then turns on whether members of Congress are in serious trouble for having been influenced by him and gotten things in return. She mentioned three things in that sound byte, there may be more to come, I’m -- perhaps there are. She mentioned that he got something -- somebody got, that he got something put in the Congressional Record. How hard is that to do?
BIRNBAUM:: Not very hard. If you’ve ever read the Congressional Record, it’s filled with homilies to people, all sorts of newspaper articles. That is -- on the spectrum of things that a member of Congress can do you for you, that’s about a one and a half.
HUME: Right. And then she mentioned that he got -- actually agreed, he got a congressman to agree to introduce legislation of benefit to that person’s clients.
HUME: Now, isn’t that what lobbyists do? Isn’t that what they’re paid to do by their clients? And isn’t that all perfectly normal?
BIRNBAUM:: Well, it is perfectly normal if there’s not a direct quid pro quo. And that is the test of this prosecution.
HUME: But the quid pro quo normally has traditionally meant, you had to slip something under the table to this person, or provide some emolument that was not otherwise proper.
BIRNBAUM:: That’s right. And that the legislator agreed to do this in exchange for that personal favor. There are several interesting things.
HUME: So in other words, if you go to the Hill as a lobbyist and you talk somebody into saying, "Look, this is a good bill, it’s going to help my clients, and I’d like you to help me with it." And the legislator, for whatever reasons, agrees to do it, and you later provide some emolument, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s some...
BIRNBAUM:: ... not necessarily. But if there is a can -- if you can - - if you can possibly make a connection between the gift and the action.
HUME: Right. And he had all kinds of gifts.
BIRNBAUM:: They said a stream of things of value, many, many of them.
HUME: Golf trips.
BIRNBAUM:: And sporting event tickets and also campaign contributions, and that’s something that really has Washington very worried.
HUME: Why is that?
BIRNBAUM:: Well because campaign contributions are perfectly legal for the most part, especially if you do it within the law. And most people would think that a quid pro quo could not come from a legal campaign contribution.
But the Abramoff case will test that and see whether that is a thing of value.
HUME: The other thing I’d like to mention was that he helped -- Abramoff got a congressman to help an Abramoff client to get a wireless telephone contract for work in the House of Representatives. That sounds more serious. What about that? And we believe that’s Bob Ney.
BIRNBAUM:: We believe it is. And he’s not identified here.
HUME: He’s the House Administrations Committee chair.
BIRNBAUM:: Who has a great deal of influence on this question.
HUME: Well, that’s because it comes under his committee.
BIRNBAUM:: That’s right. Ney put out a statement today denying that he did anything of the sort. That he made his recommendations such as they were on the merits of the case. And provided all sorts of documents indicating that some of the people who -- some of the companies that were opposing the awarding of this contract to Foxcom, the group I believe that won it.
HUME: The group that Abramoff was representing.
BIRNBAUM:: They didn’t like Foxcom, they preferred somebody that -- they in fact advocated that Foxcom get it because they might have been the best for the job. And so I think it will not be a slam-dunk, at least by what we know now, that Bob Ney will be in trouble. We don’t even know if he’s necessarily going to be indicted, although several people have reported that a bribery indictment is being considered.
HUME: Now Abramoff, however, if what she said was true, we heard him sort of say it earlier that he was able to purchase influence. That’s bribery, but he didn’t plead guilty to bribery.
BIRNBAUM:: Well, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials.
HUME: Oh, a conspiracy to bribe. I’m sorry, I missed that.
BIRNBAUM:: Well, it’s not -- the conspiracy is part of that. It is easier to prove, and I think what is important is not just who is named in this particular guilty plea, but who Abramoff may be talking about to prosecutors in order to keep his sentence as low as possible.
HUME: Anywhere in the reporting that you or the Post has done on this, has Tom DeLay’s name surfaced as somebody who was influenced by or a party to what Abramoff did? Well, we know they were associated, they were close, they were friends. They worked together on some things, traveled together some. Has he turned up as an influence, or in some way, an aider and abetter of Abramoff?
BIRNBAUM:: It’s fair to say that we suspect that among the half dozen or so members of Congress, Tom DeLay is very high on the list of members that justice officials are looking closely into to see if they can make a case for quid pro quo. Whether or not they can or not, there’s no hint of it here in this document.
HUME: In the indictment.
BIRNBAUM:: In the guilty plea, only Bob Ney, and only in a veiled way, he is talked about. And we don’t even see the case against Bob Ney. We’ll have to wait for those specifics to see how -- whether they stick.
HUME: Great. Jeff, thanks. Great to have you here.
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