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

Friday, November 25, 2005

ABC News: Abramoff probe broader than thought: paper

Nov 25, 2005 ? NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department's probe of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is broader than previously thought, examining his dealings with four lawmakers, former and current congressional aides and two former Bush administration officials, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Prosecutors in the department's public integrity and fraud divisions are looking into Abramoff's dealings with four Republicans ? former House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, Rep. John Doolittle of California and Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, the paper said, citing several people close to the investigation.

Abramoff is under investigation over his lobbying efforts for Indian tribes with casinos. He has also pleaded not guilty to federal charges in Florida that he defrauded lenders in a casino cruise line deal.

The prosecutors are also investigating at least 17 current and former congressional aides, about half of whom later took lobbying jobs with Abramoff, as well as an official from the Interior Department and another from the government's procurement office, the Journal said.

It said investigators were looking into whether Abramoff and his partners made illegal payoffs to the lawmakers and aides in the form of campaign contributions, sports tickets, meals, travel and job offers, in exchange for helping their clients.

DeLay and Ney have already retained criminal defense lawyers.

The Journal said spokespeople for Doolittle and Burns said that they haven't hired lawyers and haven't been contacted by the Justice Department.

Michael Scanlon, a former aide to DeLay and partner to powerful Republican lobbyist Abramoff, pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Monday under a deal in which he is cooperating with prosecutors probing the alleged influence-buying.

Scanlon left DeLay's office and become a partner to Abramoff, who has been indicted for fraud in a separate case in Florida. The plea agreement has been seen as a major advance in prosecutors' efforts to investigate the lobbyist.

Copyright 2005 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ICT [2005/11/25]??Abramoff allies implicated in ever-widening investigations

by: Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON - The head of a Republican environmental organization told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that she was only helping her friend, indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, when she allegedly used her connections with a high-level official at the Interior Department to promote the interests of his Indian tribal clients and their casinos.

Italia Federici, president of the nonprofit Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, denied that her organization received $400,000 in contributions from Abramoff's tribal clients in exchange for access to Interior decision-makers.

The donations from the tribes were simply acts of ''generosity,'' Federici said. The parties and meetings she arranged for Abramoff to meet top government officials and the phone calls she made at his request to press his concerns with them were done purely out of friendship, Federici told an incredulous Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the committee chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

Federici was the sole witness Nov. 17 at what was slated to be the fifth and final hearing of the ever-widening investigation into allegations that Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, defrauded six tribes of more than $80 million over a three-year period. Earlier testimony said the two skimmed off two-thirds of the funds for their own use.

So much unexplored information concerning influence peddling and corruption has emerged with leads to several other people whose names have come up repeatedly during the investigation, Dorgan said. He suggested, and McCain agreed, that the investigation should continue, beginning with a focus on the Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico, a small tribe that was allegedly defrauded of $2.7 million.

Of particular concern, Dorgan said, was the misuse of nonprofit organizations to launder money that was then used for political influence peddling and personal projects.

Among the names mentioned frequently in the hundreds of e-mails released were Republican and Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed and conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, founder of the political action committee Americans for Tax Reform.

According to the evidence, Reed received hundreds of thousands of dollars from one of Abramoff's tribal clients to organize ''grass-roots'' opposition to a proposed casino by a rival tribe. The payments were funneled through a nonprofit organization in order to obscure the fact that Reed, who is publicly against gambling, was taking casino money.

''We've uncovered almost unbelievable things here. We've uncovered activities that are pretty disgusting, some perhaps criminal, and many unethical; and I think from these hearings will come a series of ideas for change and reform,'' Dorgan said.

The Indian Affairs Committee is preparing to turn over all the evidence it has gathered during its investigation to the Senate Finance Committee at its request.

Federici had dodged an earlier hearing but appeared Nov. 17 after McCain issued a subpoena.

The 36-year-old Washington insider's demeanor during the hearing shifted from combative to attempts at demure protestations of naivete and innocence. She frequently interrupted McCain and Dorgan, talked over their comments, and responded with answers that had nothing to do with the questions.

An exasperated McCain finally threatened to hold her in contempt.

The e-mails showed Abramoff and Federici in a constant interplay in which he asked her, among other things, to intervene with former Interior Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles regarding issues favorable to his tribal clients.

Griles, who testified in early November, was the subject of a separate investigation by Interior's inspector general that was completed last year. The probe concerned ethics violations surrounding conflict-of-interest issues in which department contracts worth millions of dollars were awarded without bids to a company Griles worked for as a lobbyist before his appointment to Interior in 2001 by the Bush administration.

Interior Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, now the acting head of the BIA, was also queried during that investigation. Although the investigation did not result in charges of ethics violations, ''the dismal state of the ethics program at the Department combined with the tremendous potential for conflicts of interest that accompanied many of the DOI political appointees - but particularly Deputy Secretary Griles - merged into the making of a self-fulfilling prophesy,'' according to the report issued by the inspector general. Griles left Interior in January 2005 and returned to lobbying.

Federici said she and Griles had an 11-year friendship. Several e-mails involving Griles concerned the Jena Band of Choctaw, a rival to Abramoff's client, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, which paid him $37 million in lobbying fees.

''It seems the Jena are on the march again. If you can, can you make sure Steve squelches this again? Thanks!!'' Abramoff wrote to Federici Dec. 2, 2002.

''Thanks for the update. I'll bring it up asap,'' Federici replied.

Probed about this exchange, Federici told McCain that she ''had a recollection of mentioning the Jena'' to Griles, but ''never went into the substance of these issues with Mr. Griles.''

''That's a remarkable statement,'' a disbelieving McCain told Federici.

The e-mails also revealed connections between Abramoff's clients and Federici's requests for money.

''Hi, Jack. I hate to bother you with this right now, but I was hoping to ask about a possible contribution for CREA,'' Federici wrote to Abramoff on Jan. 9, 2003.

''Absolutely. We'll get [t]his moving asap. The Coushattas are coming to DC next Thursday so I'll hit them immediately,'' Abramoff responded.

Coushatta Chairman Kevin Sickey, commenting at the previous hearing, said Abramoff and Scanlon's corruption harmed not only the tribe but all of Indian country.

''Jack Abramoff is not a product of Indian country. On the contrary, he is the golden-boy-gone-bad of the American political system. Our tribe and others were victimized when we attempted to fit into the American political system and we were led to believe that Mr. Abramoff was the gatekeeper,'' Sickey said.

The committee will continue its investigations in January.


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