Dixie Chicks, Hockey Games Could Figure in Next Congressional Scandal

Dixie Chicks concert tickets, ringside hockey seats and a private suite at Camden Yards. These are just a few of the gifts lobbyists allegedly gave a top lawmaker and his staff in exchange for help securing earmarks and other political favors for their clients -- a relationship that could lead to criminal charges against this Republican heavyweight, new court papers show.

The details are part of a 10-count indictment released today against former lobbyist and Capitol Hill staffer Kevin Ring that sheds new light on the alleged involvement of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who is not running for reelection, in the wide-ranging influence peddling investigation stemming from the activities of now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Ring, 37, was arrested Monday and pleaded not guilty in federal court in Washington D.C. to the charges, which include conspiring with Abramoff to influence public officials through gift giving and skirting disclosure requirements.

The document also highlights contacts between Abramoff and former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Ok.) -- identified only as Representative 4 -- whose chief of staff plead guilty to taking gifts while securing a series of earmarks for Abramoff's clients.

The 46-page document appears to show how Doolittle -- identified only as Representative 5 -- helped Abramoff's team win earmarks and funding while the congressman and his staff took numerous gifts and fundraisers from Abramoff and his team.

Though the members' names are not in the documents, it gives enough information to make them clearly identifiable. Representative 4 is identified as the member now convicted Capitol Hill staffer John Albaugh worked for. Albaugh served as chief of staff to former Rep. Istook, who left office in 2006 to make an unsuccessful bid for governor. He is now a fellow at the conservative Heritage Institute in Washington D.C.

Representative 5 is listed as a member from California since 1993 who opposed gambling. Rep. Doolittle was elected to the 4th congressional district in California in 1993 and has opposed gambling. Ring is also a former Doolittle staffer.

Both members have adamantly denied any involvement in the scandal.

A statement released today by Doolittle's lawyer said the details of the indictment seemed intended only to "titilate the public." It continued: "Not once in this document does the Department of Justice allege any sort of illegal agreement between Congressman Doolittle, on the one hand, and Kevin Ring or Jack Abramoff, on the other. To the extent the Indictment can be read to imply such an agreement, the Congressman continues to steadfastly maintain there was none and that he is innocent."

In an emailed statement, Istook issued a similar denial "I was as surprised and as shocked as anyone regarding my former chief of staff. Today's event simply repeats details previously made public regarding him. I am cooperating fully with officials and have been told I am not a target of their inquiries. Nor should I be."

The details surrounding Istook center on three fundraisers hosted by Abramoff and his team, for which Istook failed repay them in a timely manner.

They came at a time when Albaugh was helping Abramoff and his team win earmarks for their clients in the transportation bill in 2003.

The first fundraiser occurred on Feb. 4, 2003 at Abramoff's Washington D.C. restaurant, Signatures.

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