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

Monday, October 31, 2005

McCain puts ex-official on hot seat

By Josephine Hearn

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called on the former No. 2 official at the Interior Department to testify before a Senate panel investigating lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his involvement with Indian gambling tribes.

The official, J. Steven Griles, who served as deputy interior secretary from 2001 to the beginning of this year, was involved in efforts to help two of Abramoff’s clients — the Louisiana Coushatta tribe and the Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan — fend off casino proposals from rival tribes and may have done so while engaged in employment negotiations with Abramoff, recent news reports have said. Griles has said through spokespeople that he did not play a major role in endeavors to aid the tribes.

The development marks the first time McCain has taken direct aim at the administration during the Indian Affairs Committee’s year-and-a-half-long investigation of Abramoff, his associate Michael Scanlon and their efforts to extract more than $80 million in lobbying and public-relations fees from Indian tribes.

Abramoff was indicted in Florida earlier this year on federal wire- and mail-fraud charges stemming from his acquisition of a casino-boat chain. He remains under investigation in the District of Columbia by a federal criminal task force.

Tomorrow’s hearing marks the fourth and final one in the Indian Affairs Committee’s investigation of Abramoff. McCain, now chairman of the panel, held a hearing this summer focusing on the Mississippi Choctaw tribe. His predecessor, former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), held hearings last year on the Tigua, Agua Caliente and Saginaw Chippewa tribes.

Griles is expected to appear alongside Italia Federici at the hearing tomorrow. Federici, who was an aide to Interior Secretary Gale Norton during her 1996 Senate bid, reportedly served as a go-between linking Griles and Abramoff. Federici is president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group founded by Norton and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

Griles is now a principal at the lobbying firm Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles LLC.

Also expected to appear at the hearing are representatives from the Coushattas, including tribe Chairman Kevin Sickey, tribal council member David Sickey, former tribal council member William Worfel and former outside counsel Kathryn van Hoof.

Two people who had business dealings with Scanlon are expected to appear: B.R. McConnon, president of Democracy Data & Communications, and Chris Cathcart, formerly of Capitol Campaign Strategies. Abramoff’s former tax adviser, Gail Halpern, will also be a witness.

In a break from earlier hearings, the committee called a representative of Abramoff’s former employer, law firm Greenberg Traurig, to testify. In past hearings, the panel has not sought testimony from Greenberg Traurig and has even praised the firm’s cooperation with the committee’s probe. Greenberg Traurig fired Abramoff in early 2004 after the first news reports of alleged wrongdoing surfaced.

It was unclear whether any of the witnesses would assert their constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

After tomorrow’s hearing, the Indian Affairs Committee is expected to release a report summarizing its findings. U.S.

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department never acted on a post-Sept. 11 proposal, contested by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, calling for increased federal control over immigration to the Mariana Islands.

The agency reassigned the two officials who produced a 34- page report that contained the proposal, and House members of both parties who oversee the Homeland Security and Justice departments said they were never told about it. The 2002 report, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News, warns that continued local control over the Marianas' borders will ``seriously jeopardize the national security'' of the U.S.

Abramoff, whose law firm was paid $3.5 million by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, to lobby between 1998 and 2002, tried to block the report, according to an e-mail released this month by House Democrats.

Abramoff is under investigation by a Justice Department-led task force and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for his lobbying on behalf of Indian tribes and other clients. In a separate case, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Florida in August in connection with his purchase of a casino cruise company.

Representative George Miller, a California Democrat, said he believes Abramoff was involved in quashing the Mariana Islands' report.

``There's substantial evidence to indicate he was the one,'' said Miller, who for years has introduced legislation to strengthen the Marianas' immigration and labor laws. ``Clearly, Mr. Abramoff had full run inside the Beltway.''

Many Foreign Workers

Restricting immigration could be a blow to the economy of the Marianas, which is located about three-quarters of the way to the Philippines from Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

The Marianas have almost five times as many foreign workers as native workers and aren't subject to U.S. minimum-wage laws. That helps them export such goods as T-shirts, caps and pants cheaply to the U.S., all labeled ``made in USA.''

Miller and the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, sent a letter Oct. 6 to the Justice Department calling for a special counsel to investigate the handling of the report. Miller and Conyers said they never saw the document and don't know what happened to it.

Justice spokesman John Nowacki said the department is reviewing the letter. He declined further comment.

The report, dated May 6, 2002, was prepared by Robert Meissner, then a regional security specialist for the Justice Department, at the request of Frederick Black, who at the time was the acting United States attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Meissner had jurisdiction over security issues for the commonwealth.

Both Transferred

Both men were subsequently transferred to lesser positions. Black is now an assistant U.S. attorney in the Marianas, and Meissner was reassigned from his job reviewing security for the commonwealth and 10 other U.S. attorney's offices and now works in the U.S. attorney's office in northern Virginia. Black and Meissner declined to comment.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine is looking into the reasons behind Black's removal as acting U.S. attorney, spokesman Paul Martin said. The Los Angeles Times reported in August that Black's demotion came after he began exploring Abramoff's lobbying efforts on behalf of court officials in Guam, another U.S. territory.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is scheduled Nov. 2 to hold its fourth hearing on the activities of Abramoff, who along with partner Michael Scanlon, received millions of dollars in lobbying fees from casino-operating tribes between 2001 and 2004.

Abramoff was also a top fund-raiser for President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election, bringing in at least $100,000.

`Target-Rich Environment'

The Justice Department report on the Marianas said the islands, which rely on tourism and are home to military facilities and visiting U.S. Navy vessels, ``offer a target-rich environment for terrorist activity.''

Under a 1976 covenant between the commonwealth and the U.S., immigration laws don't apply to the Marianas ``except in the manner and to the extent made applicable to them by the Congress.''

Abramoff lobbied against efforts to tighten those laws. The islands have 28,717 foreign workers, compared with 6,006 natives, in the labor force, according to Central Intelligence Agency statistics.

In an Oct, 1, 2001, e-mail to the Marianas government, Abramoff said he was alerted to the pending immigration report by the Justice Department chief of staff, whom he hosted in his luxury box at a Washington Redskins football game. He said he would pass on to the government any information he received from the official. At the time, David Ayres was chief of staff.

`Bad Guys'

In the e-mail, Abramoff warned that some ``bad guys'' in Justice had been saying the commonwealth ``if not taken over, will be a major entry point for terrorists. This, of course, is patently ridiculous and we have been working to counter this.''

Abramoff said he would meet with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. One of Abramoff's associates was Kevin Ring, who joined the firm after serving as counsel to a Judiciary subcommittee that Ashcroft chaired when he served in the U.S. Senate.

``We'll hope the higher ups will take some time to squash this on their own,'' Abramoff wrote.

``There has been no substantive contact between Ashcroft or Ashcroft's people and Abramoff,'' said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Washington-based Ashcroft Group LLC, where both Ashcroft and Ayres are partners.

Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum declined to comment.

Never Saw Report

Lawmakers of both parties said they never saw the recommendations. ``I never saw such a report,'' said Representative Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican and the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Representatives Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, a Democratic member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said they wanted to look at who controls immigration to the Marianas.

``We can never put together seamless security, but we are so far away from what we could be accomplishing,'' Pascrell said.

Conyers said Congress needed to pass legislation in line with the report's recommendations. ``It still needs to be acted upon,'' he said. ``We've got a security problem here, and it's a serious one.''

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at

Last Updated: October 31, 2005 00:12 EST


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