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Senate Democrats urge appointment of special counsel for Abramoff probe

[JURIST] US Senate Democrats Charles Schumer (D-NY) [official website] and Ken Salazar (D-CO) [official website] Thursday urged US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] to appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation of Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive] and his allegedly corrupt connections [JURIST report] with more than 20 Republican congressmen, staffers, and White House aides. Though Schumer and Salazar said that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has adequately handled the investigation so far, they argued in a letter [text and press release] that appointment of an independent investigator was "not only justified, but necessary" in light of evidence suggesting that Abramoff had organized at least one White House meeting with presidential aides while Gonzales served as White House counsel. Earlier this month, Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges [JURIST report] and to separate conspiracy, tax evasion, and mail fraud charges [JURIST report] as required by a plea bargain [PDF text] where he will receive a reduced sentence in exchange for future testimony in the ongoing Congressional bribery investigation. The lead prosecutor in the case, Noel Hillman, was nominated [press release; AP report] Wednesday by President Bush to a federal judgeship in New Jersey, and DOJ officials say Hillman will step down from the case next week. AP has more.

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