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Four years ago, when Susan Hirschmann stepped down as chief of staff to Representative Tom DeLay, the Republican leader paid tribute to his departing aide on the House floor. At the time, DeLay’s words seemed like a benediction for Hirschmann, who was off to start a lobbying career at Williams & Jensen. As DeLay’s power on Capitol Hill grew, Hirschmann’s star on K Street rose. But now DeLay’s praise may come to haunt Hirschmann. After being indicted in Texas for campaign finance irregularities, DeLay first stepped down as majority leader and then announced his decision to leave the House altogether. Federal investigators are also looking into lobbying improprieties between DeLay’s office and his friend and former political ally, ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A growing number of individuals have been drawn into the scandal, including several former DeLay staffers. So far, Hirschmann seems to have stayed clear of serious trouble. Yet she was closely involved with many of those under investigation. As DeLay’s chief of staff, she was his right-hand woman from 1997 to 2002, the key period when alleged travel and lobbying violations occurred. Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon, who worked under Hirschmann on DeLay’s staff, have already pled guilty to charges arising out of the government’s probe. Another one of Hirschmann’s former colleagues in DeLay’s office, Edwin Buckham, has also drawn attention from federal investigators. Hirschmann isn’t talking. In fact, the lobbyist, who has always preferred to work behind the scenes, won’t say if she is cooperating with investigators or even if she has hired a lawyer. Despite her close ties to DeLay, Hirschmann has not been accused of any ethics violations or of breaking any federal laws. She’s also not believed to be a target of the government’s inquiry, according to dozens of lawyers and former House staffers who were interviewed for this article. But with speculation that DeLay may be one of the ultimate targets of the federal probe, Hirschmann could still play a central role in the investigation. “Given her position and close contact with DeLay, to the extent prosecutors want to build a case against DeLay, she will be important,” says Peter Henning, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice’s criminal division who is now a law professor at Wayne State University. Hirschmann was brought into DeLay’s office in 1997 by Buckham, then the congressman’s top aide. She started as deputy chief of staff, and, alongside Buckham and Rudy, helped run DeLay’s finely tuned vote-getting machine. After Buckham left DeLay’s office, Hirschmann became chief of staff, and Rudy served as her deputy. Scanlon, meanwhile, worked as DeLay’s communications director. Through the K Street Project, DeLay sought to build a network of Republican lobbyists and activists, and his former staffers were key players in this effort. In 1997 Buckham set up the now-defunct lobby shop Alexander Strategy Group. In early 2000 Scanlon left DeLay’s office, eventually setting up a PR firm and working closely with Abramoff. Rudy left Capitol Hill later in 2000, first joining Abramoff’s lobbying practice and then Buckham’s Alexander Strategy Group. And in 2002 Hirschmann joined Williams & Jensen, a law firm she already knew because of its work for DeLay’s political action committees. Hirschmann has built an impressive list of lobbying clients at Williams & Jensen, including Cablevision Systems Corp., FedEx Corp., Motorola Inc., Orbitz LLC, Pfizer Inc, and Time Warner Inc. According to the most recent lobbying disclosure records available, Hirschmann billed $2.6 million during the first half of 2005. In early 2004 the Abramoff scandal began to surface. Scanlon, the first to fall in the government’s investigation, pled guilty last November to improperly using payments from Abramoff’s tribal clients. In January, Abramoff himself pled guilty to conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion. Two months later Rudy pled guilty to taking gifts from Abramoff while still on DeLay’s payroll. Buckham has not been charged, but investigators are looking at his relationship with Abramoff and DeLay. Lawyers for Buckham, Rudy, and Scanlon declined to comment for this article. Not only did Hirschmann work closely with Buckham, Rudy, and Scanlon in DeLay’s office, as the congressman’s chief of staff she was also responsible for signing off on travel. Hirschmann took full advantage of many privately funded excursions herself, racking up a tab of $118,968 during her five years with DeLay on various trips (perks within House rules). But she also accompanied the congressman on three trips, two of which she signed off on, that have recently come under scrutiny because of links to Abramoff and Buckham. The first was in August 1997, shortly before Hirschmann became chief of staff. She accompanied DeLay, Buckham, and others to Moscow, where they met with Russian executives and Abramoff. Although House records indicate the trip was sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, The Washington Post reported last year that the money for the trip had come from Russian business interests that had hired Abramoff to lobby. A few years later, in the spring of 2000, Hirschmann and her husband joined DeLay on a ten-day junket to London and Scotland. The Abramoff-organized trip was officially sponsored by the same nonprofit that paid for the excursion to Moscow, but the Post reported that it was financed by Indian tribes and a gambling services company. Hirschmann also went with DeLay on an August 2001 tour of South Korea that she coordinated with Buckham’s lobbying shop. The trip was sponsored by the Korea � U.S. Exchange Council, a nonprofit created by Buckham’s firm and funded by a Korean conglomerate, the Hanwha Group. The trip’s disclosure created a firestorm before the House Ethics Committee because the nonprofit had registered as a foreign agent, which isn’t allowed to sponsor congressional travel. Though an association with DeLay isn’t the plus it once was, Hirschmann’s supporters believe she will find a way to emerge unscathed. “Her strategic connections are not ones that begin or end when one person leaves Congress,” says former representative Bill Paxon (R � New York), now a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. “Susan is good because she’s a very good big-picture strategist.” � Anna Palmer and Emma Schwartz

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