McCain appoints Abramoff-linked ex-Senator to leadership post
Senator John McCain has appointed a former Republican Senator who had major links to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff as head of his Montana presidential campaign.
Conrad Burns lost his senate seat to Democrat Jon Tester in 2006. The Republican senator's ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to three federal fraud and corruption charges in 2006, are believed to have played a major role in his defeat. Earlier this month, according to the AP, the Justice Department informed Burns that he was no longer a subject of the Abramoff probe.
Burns' appointment as the chair of McCain's Montana campaign was a curious move, given some of the conflict that has existed between the two senators when they both served in Congress. The Chicago Tribune on Monday described one scenario in which Senator McCain publicly decried Burns for an earmark that he had placed in an appropriations bill:
John McCain went to the Senate floor in 2003 to mercilessly ridicule a fellow Republican, then-Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, for tucking a $1 million earmark into a spending bill to study the DNA of Montana's bears.
"One can only imagine and conjure up an idea as to how this might be used," mocked McCain. "Approach a bear: 'That bear cub over there claims that you're his father and we need to take your DNA.' Approach another bear: 'Two hikers had their food stolen by a bear, and we think it is you. We have to get the DNA.'"
In spite of such testy exchanges, Burns described his support for McCain as deriving from their long service together, and added that he approves of "the way he wants to run an administration," according to the Billings Gazette.
While Burns was not charged with any crimes related to Abramoff's corrupt activities, the senator and his staff had a close relationship with the lobbyist. Two members of Burns' staff joined Abramoff's lobbying firm, and the senator received $150,000 in donations from Abramoff and his associates. Ultimately, Burns donated the money to charitable causes.
Burns and his staff met with Abramoff on a number of occasion, and succeeded in attaching pricey earmarks to spending bills in Congress at the lobbyist's request. In spite of these activities, Burns attempted to argue that he was in the dark about what happened with Abramoff.
"A lot of things happened that I didn't know about," Roll Call quoted him saying in 2005.
McCain did not address the controversy in accepting Burns' endorsement.
"Conrad served his country in the United States Marine Corps, and was a dedicated representative of the people of Montana for more than two decades," he said in a statement over the weekend. "I am humbled by his support."