News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dems Seek Probe on Rove Role in CIA Leak

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent

Democrats stirred the pot Thursday in the case of presidential aide Karl Rove and the news leak that unmasked a CIA agent, pushing the issue toward the Senate floor, pressing for a congressional investigation and inviting the operative's husband to the Capitol to accuse the White House of a "smear campaign."

The case is not about Rove, said Rep. Rush Holt (news, bio, voting record) of New Jersey, who called for a probe that would compel senior administration officials to turn over records relating to the disclosure that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. "This ... is about holding the executive branch accountable for a breach of national security."

Democratic Leader Harry Reid led the effort to push the issue onto the Senate floor, seeking a quick vote on legislation to strip national security clearances from any official who discloses the identity of a covert agent.

"It is up to the president to decide whether or not he will keep his word to fire whoever is responsible for the leak," said Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley. "It is up to the lawyers to decide what laws were violated. Congress has the right and responsibility to state clearly that anyone who divulges classified information should lose their security clearance."

A few paces off the Senate floor, Plame's husband, a former diplomat, criticized Bush's deputy chief of staff and chief political strategist in personal terms. "I made my bones confronting Saddam Hussein. ... Karl Rove made his bones by dirty political tricks," said Joseph Wilson, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War. At the news conference hosted by Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., Wilson said he has been targeted by a "smear campaign launched from the West Wing of the White House."

Republicans pushed back.

In a silent show of support for Rove, Bush chatted amiably with the aide as the pair walked to a helicopter for the president's trip to Indianapolis during the day.

The Republican National Committee distributed a document entitled "Joe Wilson's Top Ten Worst Inaccuracies and Misstatements."

In the Senate, the GOP maneuvered to postpone a debate and vote on Reid's proposal.

The controversy has simmered for months. It has intensified in recent days with the recent disclosure that Rove was a source for Time Magazine reporter Matt Cooper, author of a Web site article that identified Plame as a CIA officer.

Cooper testified Wednesday before a federal grand jury investigating whether anyone in the administration illegally leaked Plame's name and identity. Wilson, a critic of Bush's Iraq policy, has said the leak was an attempt to discredit him.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying the White House deputy chief of staff had done nothing wrong and he "has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation."

At the same time, the president twice this week has passed up opportunities to personally declare his continued confidence in the aide most closely identified with Bush political successes.

Democrats have stepped into the controversy with increasing eagerness.

Reid introduced his legislation as an amendment to a pending bill that provides funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Win or lose, that increased the odds of a quick debate and vote on the issue.

Holt's proposal requests that Bush turn over to the House documents relating to the disclosure of Plame's identity. It would require the head of the CIA and the attorney general, as well as the secretaries of State and defense, to do likewise.

Compared to Reid, he had little chance of a vote in the House, where the rules give majority Republicans greater control over proceedings on the floor.

The New Jersey lawmaker announced his action in a two-page written statement that made mention of two other scandals of the past three decades — Watergate and Iran-Contra — episodes that drove one Republican from office and left another politically weakened in the final years of his term.

Campaign for a Cleaner Congress: Rove tied to House Lobbying Scandal through Former Aides

To: National Desk

Contact: Sandra Salstrom of Campaign for a Cleaner Congress, 202-393-4352

WASHINGTON, July 14 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Karl Rove's involvement in leaking the name of a CIA operative for political advantage during wartime could be just the tip of the iceberg as far as unethical behavior, since his web of influence extends to the most notorious figure of the House Lobbying Scandal.

"It's widely known that Karl Rove has been pulling strings all over Washington for years, obviously not just in the case of the Plame leak," said Peter L. Kelley, manager of the Campaign for a Cleaner Congress.

"What is not widely known, however, is his close connection with Jack Abramoff, who is at the center of the lobbying scandal in which Washington is now embroiled. Rove let archconservative operatives like Grover Norquist call shots at the White House. And just this week, a Texas judge ruled that a former Rove lieutenant must face felony charges of money laundering for Tom DeLay's political operation.

"Without further ethics reforms, the public has virtually no ability to find out what is really going on in Washington these days," Kelley said. "But what we do know is starting to smell, and it offers a starting point for further investigation."

For sources on the following, and a 5-point plan to limit the influence-peddling in Washington, see

-- When Rove got to the White House in 2001, he hired as his personal assistant Susan Ralston, previously Abramoff's personal assistant. Ralston has since become an insider's insider.

-- Norquist reportedly made a deal in which Ralston would take messages for Rove at the White House, then call Norquist to tell her whether she should put the caller through.

-- John Colyandro wrote direct mail pieces for Rove in the 1980s. When he was hired as executive director of the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, he was described as a "longtime pal of Rove's." This week, a judge said Colyandro must stand trial for laundering over $600,000 in corporate campaign contributions.

"Could party leaders' abrupt about-face on the Plame case have anything to do with the other ethics scandals that have been grabbing headlines for months now?" said Kelley. "It seems there are more than a few bad apples in this barrel, and they don't like it that the public is starting to find out."

Indian casino builders flock to Pombo


WASHINGTON — American Indian tribes have been placing their bets on Tracy Republican Richard Pombo ever since he became chairman of the House Resources Committee.

Today, Pombo's importance in tribal affairs will be on display when his committee considers the land-claim complaints of sev-eral tribes. But well before today's hearing, campaign contributions have underscored Pombo's newfound stature in Indian country.

So far this year, federal records show, 15tribes have contributed $71,000 to Pombo's leadership political action committee. This accounts for three out of every four dollars raised by Pombo's PAC since January and, more broadly, it reflects the growing political clout of tribes.

"It's a way for the tribe to participate in the (political) process," Jacob Coin, communications director for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said Wednesday.

Based in Highland, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, the 200 enrolled members of the San Manuel Band maintain what Coin called a "fairly active government affairs effort." They monitor everything from Indian health care to casino regulations, and they make contributions such as the $5,000 sent to Pombo's leadership PAC in January.

Like other lawmakers with leadership PACs, Pombo distributes money among like-minded colleagues and candidates.

All told, a Political Money Line analysis shows, Pombo's campaign and leadership fund-raising committees have collected $221,000 from tribes since 1999. This was more than all but four members of the House and Senate had collected.

"I've made Native American issues a major issue on the committee," Pombo said Wednesday, when asked why the tribal contributions have been increasing. "There are a lot of issues that have been hanging out there a long time."

Pombo said these lingering issues include securing long-sought federal recognition for dozens of tribes, as well as addressing the move of tribal casino operations to offreservation land.

Tribes have become more active

Sometimes, the tribal money has flowed directly, as in this year's contributions that include $2,000 from the Porterville-based Tule River Tribal Council; $5,000 from the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin; and $5,000 from the Mashuntucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut.

"Tribes have gotten much more sophisticated, and we're looking to support people who support our interests," said Dan Little, Washington-based government relations director for the Mashuntucket Pequot tribe. "Mr. Pombo has been a great friend of ours."

William Gollnick, chief of staff for the Oneida, added, "The tribe is involved (with lawmakers) who are very significant."

Other times, contributions come from individuals closely allied with tribes even if they are not themselves American Indian.

"We've seen, in the last 10 years, that tribes have become a lot more active," Pombo said.

One big-name contributor who gave Pombo's PAC $5,000 in 2003, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is under federal and congressional investigation over his dealings with tribal clients. Abramoff also gave $2,000, the maximum allowed, to Pombo's congressional campaign committee in 2003.

Last year, likewise, records show that two partners in a Michigan firm hoping to help a New York tribe build a new casino contributed $7,000 to Pombo's leadership PAC. The individuals, Marian Ilitch and her husband, Michael Malik, are partners in putting up the money for a casino bid by New York's Shinnecock tribe.

Earlier this week, Malik and Ilitch's son Christopher — also a past contributor to Pombo's leadership group — hosted a fund-raiser for Pombo in Detroit. This week's $5,000-a-head fund-raiser, first reported by the Associated Press, offered donors baseball-themed goodies, including seats for Tuesday night's All-Star Game.

Ilitch, whose family owns the Detroit Tigers and the Little Caesars pizza chain, is also joining with Malik in attempting to build a tribal casino in Barstow. Neither the contributors nor representatives of the Shinnecock tribe are testifying today.

Instead, the hearing will delve into complex and long-running land claims filed by other tribes, which maintain their New York property was illegally seized by U.S. settlers. For some of these tribes, the price for dropping the multimillion-dollar land claims has been a go-ahead to build new casinos.

The tribes don't all agree on the next best step, and any settlement will eventually require legislation passed by Pombo's committee.

"We want to begin to educate members," said Gollnick, of the Oneida Tribe.

McCain: Indians were betrayed

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WASHINGTON — As they maneuvered to take millions of dollars from Indian tribes, Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a partner betrayed longtime friends, created fake invoices and companies and shuffled money between nonprofit groups and charities to conceal their involvement and avoid paying taxes, a Senate committee charged last month.

Even though a federal grand jury, the FBI and a task force of federal agencies are already investigating Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, senators called for new investigations of the pair for possible mail and wire fraud, tax evasion and abuse of charity tax laws.

“This investigation has taken twists and turns that we had not anticipated,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “It has uncovered deceptions and greed that even by Washington standards are breathtaking.”

“We view this just as a gigantic scam,” said committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Abramoff and Scanlon represented six Indian tribes that owned casinos as they sought to support the passage of laws that would suppress competition in Alabama and Texas, dramatically overcharging them in the process, investigators contend. Hundreds of e-mails and invoices released by the committee shed new light on how the pair managed to generate and conceal millions of dollars in fees from the tribes and how their deceits ran from hugely ambitious deals to matters as small as an awards plaque.

“Today’s hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed,” McCain said on June 22. “It is simply and sadly a tale of betrayal.”

Committee members expressed incredulity at the number and different types of organizations, many of them tied to conservative causes, that Scanlon and Abramoff used to hide their profits and to funnel gifts to leading members of Congress.

“If you dyed that money purple, there would be a lot of purple pants pockets around this town,” Dorgan said.

Friend: Abramoff lied

Evidence presented June 22 showed Abramoff and Scanlon purposely used nonprofit groups that are not required by law to disclose their donors, including Americans for Tax Reform, run by longtime Abramoff friend Grover Norquist.

Amy Ridenour testified that Abramoff, a friend for decades, had lied to her when he funneled $1 million of tribal money through her group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, and when he got the group to fund a golf outing to Scotland for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) by saying it was a trip to visit the British Parliament.

“He always said it would be no problem and I believed him,” said Ridenour, whose center is barred by tax law from participating in political endeavors or lobbying. “Frankly, I’m appalled.”

David Grosh, a former yoga instructor and lifeguard in Rehoboth Beach, Del., testified that Scanlon, whom he has known since childhood, one day called and offered to make him head of the American International Center, which, unknown to Grosh, was being created to shuffle millions of dollars in secret profits.

“I asked him what I have to do and he said, ‘Nothing.’ So I said OK,” said Grosh, who was paid about $2,000 for allowing his home address to be used as the center’s.

“I got out of it when I found out it involved the federal government, Indians and gambling,” Grosh said. “I know that was headed down the wrong way.”

Senate investigators asserted that a nonprofit group Abramoff set up in Washington, the Capital Athletic Foundation, was used primarily to help Abramoff avoid paying taxes on his profits, and that while the organization provided very little money to legitimate civic groups, it did send money to a sniper instructor in Israel.

When the instructor offered to send paperwork on letterhead to make the contribution look legitimate, Abramoff balked. “I don’t want sniper letterhead,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The e-mails showed that Abramoff was deceitful in the most benign matters.

Abramoff wrote to a rabbi in 2000 saying he was being considered for admission to the exclusive Cosmos Club in Washington, but fretting that he didn’t have a lot of awards like other members.

He asked the rabbi to create an award citing him as a “Scholar of Talmudic Studies” — with the date showing it had been given years earlier.

“I just need to know what needs to be produced,” the rabbi wrote back. “Letters? Plaques? Neither?”

“Probably just a few clever titles of awards, dates and that’s it,” Abramoff responded. “Do you have any creative titles or should I dip into my bag of tricks?”

Abramoff declined to testify when he appeared before the committee in September, citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Scanlon did the same at a November hearing.

After the June 22 hearing, Abramoff’s spokesman, Andrew Blum, released a statement to The Associated Press saying, “With the ongoing political investigation being directed by the U.S. Senate and an investigation at the Department of Justice, Mr. Abramoff is put into the impossible position of not being able to defend himself in the public arena.”

Millions pocketed

Testimony and evidence presented by the committee at the June 22 hearing showed Abramoff and Scanlon charged their Indian clients millions of dollars in lobbying and public relations fees but spent only a small part of the money on such activities.

The Choctaw tribe of Mississippi paid the two men $7.7 million in 2001 alone. Scanlon spent $1.2 million on political fieldwork to help the tribe and he and Abramoff split the remaining $6.5 million.

The tribes never knew that Abramoff and Scanlon were working together.

After being hired by a tribe as a lobbyist at a relatively low cost, Abramoff would persuade the members to hire Scanlon’s company, Capitol Campaign Strategies, to do political fieldwork.

Scanlon then charged much larger fees and split the money with Abramoff.

Of the $66 million the two men had collected from the tribes since 2001, $22 million went directly to Abramoff, McCain said.

The e-mails released June 22 — a tiny portion of what one witness said were 60,000 such messages collected by Senate investigators — show that Abramoff and Scanlon were often lighthearted in their discussions about the scheme, which they called “give me five” deals.

In one e-mail, Abramoff joked about being included in an alumni directory being put together by his former employer.

“I’m just surprised I am not under ‘dead, disgraced or in jail,’” he wrote.

Bob Kemper writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail:


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