Rep. Robert William NeyIn 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Republican Congressman Robert Ney had a unique opportunity to persuade the Administration of President George W. Bush to open a dialogue with Iran. He didn’t take it.
Instead, Ney took bribes from lobbyist/convicted-felon Jack Abramoff and gifts from Fouad al-Zayat, a businessman and gambler nicknamed The Fat Man. He routed contracts to Abramoff’s clients, intervened at Abramoff’s request in an election on the U.S. territory of Guam and sought U.S. permission for The Fat Man to sell airplane parts to Iran.
Meanwhile, the window to negotiate with Iran on several crucial issues, including its nuclear program, closed without any action by the Bush Administration. And Ney went to prison.
A six-term Republican from Ohio, Ney was not just another Congressman on the Abramoff payroll. He was one of Congress’ few experts on Iran: he taught English there in the 1970s, he speaks Farsi, and he advocated opening a dialogue with that nation as early as 1997. So it was natural, then, that when Iran wanted to reach out to the United States, that it would do so through Ney.
In 2003, Iran wrote a letter to the Bush Administration proposing to open discussions with the United States on issues such as Iran’s nuclear policy and its relations with terrorist groups like Hezbollah. The United States and Iran have no diplomatic relations, so the Iranian government sent its proposal through the Swiss Ambassador to Washington, who then entrusted it to Ney.
Ney had the letter hand-delivered to Bush advisor Karl Rove, and the two spoke briefly by phone later that day to confirm its receipt. But instead of parlaying his role as trusted Republican expert on Iran into a greater one in improving the long-troubled relationship between the U.S. and Iran, Ney chose to use it to enrich himself. By that time, he’d already gone gambling in London with Zayat, a Syrian airplane mogul who wanted to sell parts to Iran. Nicknamed “the Fat Man” by casino workers in Britain, Zayat gave Ney several thousand dollars in gambling chips, and Ney walked away with winnings of $5,000.
After that trip, Ney reached out to federal officials to help the Fat Man get an entry visa to the United States. Three months after receiving the watershed Iran letter, Ney went gambling with Zayat again, and after accepting thousands in chips from the businessman, won $34,000. In turn, he reached out to Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss loosening U.S. sanctions on Iran. There is no indication he ever approached the White House again on the issue of negotiating with Iran.
He was busy, as well, with the work he did for Abramoff. In his agreement with prosecutors, Ney admitted to accepting bribes from Abramoff that included expensive dinners, box seats at sporting events and at least three all-expenses-paid vacations, including the 2002 golfing trip to Scotland that became the new shorthand for Congressional corruption.
Ney now admits that in return for the many gifts he received from Abramoff, he added a series of amendments to a bill in 2002 that would help the lobbyist’s clients, such as two [I have seen the number 4] that proposed allowing casinos that would be run by Native American tribes that hired Abramoff. He also helped a telecommunications company represented by Abramoff win a multi-million dollar contract to outfit the House of Representatives with wireless telephone service. And when Abramoff was trying to complete his fraudulent purchase of a fleet of gambling boats, Ney read disparaging comments about the owner of the fleet into the Congressional Record.
In September 2006, Ney pleaded guilty to several charges, including accepting bribes and lying to Congress, and in January 2007, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
His was not the only career sunk by Abramoff. Two of his own staff members, Neil Volz and Will Heaton, pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to accepting bribes from Abramoff. Heaton, who wore a wire to help prosecutors convict Ney, avoided prison time, but was sentenced in August 2007 to two years of probation. Former White House official David Safavian – who joined Ney on the infamous Scotland trip – was sentenced to 18 months in prison after his conviction on four felonies in connection to the Abramoff scandal. Also touched by the scandal was Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition activist, who lost his bid to be the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 2006 because he was under federal investigation for his ties to Abramoff.
- Begins serving sentence: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/20070301-0948-ney-corruption.html
- Sentenced to 30 months: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50815FB35540C738EDDA80894DF404482 li>
Ney accepted gambling chips from a man who was not just any “foreign
businessman” Gambler was seeking to sell U.S. planes and spare parts to
Ney intermediary between Iran-Rove: (hyper-sensitive national security issues in the
hands of someone receptive to
Ney’s expertise on
- Congress cancels wireless contract as Ney heads to prison: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0207/2910.html
Will Heaton also pleads
Former Ney Aide Gets No Prison Time, Boston Globe, August 16,
- Wireless contract: http://www.hillnews.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/030305/abramoff.html li>
- Embattled Rep. Ney Won't Seek Reelection: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/07/AR2006080700078_pf.h tml:
- Former Aide to Rep. Ney Pleads Guilty
- Volz Will Be Third Abramoff Associate to Testify Against GOP Lawmaker: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/08/AR2006050800443.html
- The Golf Junket that Haunts Abramoff and Friends: http://www.time.com/time/nation/printout/0,8816,1193223,00.html
- Oh. Bad, bad days for Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH): http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/008884.php
- Link to Ney’s plea agreement: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/politics/060915_pin.ney.agree.pdf
- 2nd Ney Aide Subpoenaed to Talk in Probe
- The Associated Press, Monday, July 10, 2006, Safavian Convicted of Hiding Aid to Lobbyist Abramoff
- Bloomberg News, June 20, 2006, Congressman Faces Up to 27 Months in Prison
- The New York Times, September 15, 2006