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Former Senate Aide Pleads Guilty to Federal Child Pornography Charge

A former aide to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal child pornography charge.

James Michael McHaney of Washington, D.C., faces up to 10 years in prison after his felony conviction. He was fired from his job as a scheduler for Cantwell after his arrest last year. Earlier, he had worked for the 2004 presidential campaigns of Democrats Dick Gephardt and John Kerry.

Prosecutors say McHaney, 28, tried to arrange a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old boy last November. Police later found child pornography in his car and home.

He was initially charged with attempting to sexually exploit a minor, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of possession of child pornography. Prosecutors said he had more than 1,000 images of child pornography, as well as videos and DVDs portraying children as young as three engaged in sexual conduct.

McHaney's lawyer, Thomas Abbenante, called the case "a very tragic situation" for McHaney and his family. McHaney's parents were in court Thursday as U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan approved the plea agreement.

The parents declined to comment, as did Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Sexton, who prosecuted the case.

McHaney, who has been jailed since his Nov. 30 arrest, was dressed in a blue, short-sleeved prison-issued jumpsuit and answered in a clear voice as Hogan questioned him during the 45-minute court hearing.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for McHaney to receive anywhere from eight to 10 years in prison, although attorneys for both sides said that could be significantly reduced because he is a first-time offender and has cooperated with authorities. A hearing is scheduled May 1.

According to court papers presented by prosecutors and signed by McHaney, McHaney was at his Senate job on Nov. 30 when an unidentified witness, who was working with police, contacted him online. The witness asked whether McHaney, known as Mike, was interested in sex with a 13-year-old boy.

"I'll be there," McHaney replied, the document said.

McHaney said he could "take a long lunch" and agreed to bring "visual aids" to a meeting with the witness. Police later discovered a portable flash drive with more than 1,000 pornographic images.

The FBI arrested McHaney when he arrived for the meeting. He was fired from his Senate job hours later.

As part of the plea agreement, authorities seized McHaney's car, a 1999 Honda Civic, as well as two laptop computers, a Senate-issued BlackBerry and several DVDs and videos, among other items.

A spokeswoman for Cantwell declined to comment Thursday.