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

Monday, November 28, 2005 Tribe Says Abramoff Told Them to Donate

Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON -- Lobbyist Jack Abramoff instructed an Indian tribe to make a $5,000 donation to Sen. Byron Dorgan shortly after the lawmaker signed a letter requesting federal money for a school program that Abramoff's tribal clients wanted, the tribe's lawyer said Monday.

The disclosure from the Louisiana Coushattas came as Dorgan, D-N.D., sharply criticized The Associated Press for reporting last week that he had collected $20,000 in donations from Abramoff's lobbying firm and tribal clients around the time of his Feb. 11, 2002, letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Dorgan told a news conference in North Dakota he saw no reason to step aside as the top Democrat on the Senate committee investigating Abramoff's controversial lobbying.

Reiterating comments his staff gave in the AP's story, Dorgan said he never met the lobbyist and his letter had nothing to do with Abramoff or the donations. He said he wrote the letter because he supported the tribal school construction program and believed tribes in his state might benefit.

"The Bush administration wanted to shut the program down. I disagreed. The program saves the federal government money and gets results. That makes sense to me," he said. Dorgan's staff said Dorgan believes the letter was drafted by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who also signed it.

As for the $20,000 in donations that came to him from Abramoff's firm and four tribal clients within weeks of the letter, Dorgan said: "I don't have any idea what was contributed to me, or by whom. No contribution has been made to me that was ever represented as a contribution coming from Mr. Abramoff, or any relationship to things that he was involved in."

At the time, Dorgan and Burns sent the letter, Abramoff was trying to keep the tribal school construction program alive and win more money. One of his tribes, the Mississippi Choctaw, had already gotten money from the program and another, the Saginaw Chippewa, was seeking money. Dorgan's letter mentioned the Choctaw for its successful use of the program.

A tribe that sent money to both Dorgan and Burns three weeks after the 2002 letter said Monday that Abramoff instructed it to make the donations.

The Louisiana Coushattas' check ledger shows the tribe on March 6, 2002, wrote checks for $5,000 to Dorgan's political group, called the Great Plains Leadership Fund, and $25,000 to Burns. That money ultimately landed in Burns' Friends of the Big Sky political group, records show.

In all, the Coushattas issued more than five dozen checks to lawmakers and their groups that day. Several of the recipients had written letters favorable to Abramoff's clients.

Jimmy Faircloth, a lawyer for the Coushattas, told the AP that all the checks, including those to Dorgan and Burns, were written at Abramoff's behest. "I am confident of that fact," Faircloth said.

Dorgan said Monday he believed the AP story last week unfairly suggested there was a connection between the donations and the letter, even though the AP quoted his staff saying there was no connection.

"The suggestion in the story that I may have supported that school construction program because of Jack Abramoff or because of campaign contributions from Indian tribes is clearly and despicably wrong," he said.

Dorgan's spokesman, Barry E. Piatt, said he believed his boss had pursued the congressional investigation of Abramoff aggressively. Asked why that investigation hasn't focused more on donations to lawmakers who wrote letters favorable to Abramoff's clients, Piatt said, "They're investigating what appears to be massive fraud, and there's lots of ground to cover and it is still early."

Dorgan's office also corrected one piece of information it provided last week. In an interview last Wednesday, Dorgan chief of staff Bernie Toon told the AP that congressional aide Peter Kiefhaber worked for Dorgan's subcommittee in late January 2003. Kiefhaber did work for the Democratic staff of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee at the time and Dorgan was a member, but Dorgan didn't take over as the top Democrat on the panel until March 4, 2003, his office said Monday. - The plot thickens - Nov 28, 2005


How far will it go? That's what many nervous officials in Washington are wondering as they brace for what is showing signs of becoming the biggest influence-peddling scandal in decades. An investigation that began nearly two years ago into whether lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associate Michael Scanlon bilked six Indian tribes out of $80 million now looks as though it could touch dozens of lawmakers, their current and former staff members and Bush Administration officials. The Justice Department is preparing to test whether accepting lawfully reported campaign contributions may constitute corruption, subjecting Washington politicians to an entirely new standard. Even those who are not in legal jeopardy over their dealings with Abramoff and Scanlon could face embarrassing questions at home. All of which is about the last thing the Republicans who control Congress wanted to hear as they move into what is an already hostile political climate for next year's midterm elections. "There's certainly a sense of foreboding among Republicans that this is the big one," says Charlie Cook, whose nonpartisan Cook Political Report tracks congressional elections. "This is the one that could really catch on."

Last week produced the biggest development yet in the case: a plea agreement by public relations man Scanlon, who was once a press secretary for Texas Congressman Tom DeLay. In the agreement, Scanlon acknowledged that he and "Lobbyist A" (Abramoff) showered "Representative #1" (Ohio Congressman Bob Ney) and his staff with lavish trips, tickets to sporting events and concerts, sports-arena boxes for fund raisers, campaign contributions, golf outings and free meals at Abramoff's "upscale restaurant," Signatures. The plea agreement alleges that Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee, provided "official acts and influence," including introducing legislation, and giving a leg up to an Abramoff client's bid to install cell-phone antennas in the House buildings. It also charges that Ney pressured Administration officials on behalf of Abramoff and Scanlon's clients. Ney denies having acted improperly. "Whenever Representative Ney took official action--actions similar to those taken by elected representatives every day as part of the normal, appropriate legislative process--he did so based on his best understanding of what was right and not based on any improper influence," Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said.

The plea agreement suggests that Ney is only one of numerous public officials the feds are looking at and that Scanlon, who has been cooperating with them since June, could be their star witness. Says Scanlon's attorney Stephen Braga: "The government's investigation is much broader--and Mr. Scanlon's cooperation in that investigation is much more extensive--than [the facts] recited in the plea-agreement papers." Adding to lawmakers' concerns is that federal authorities may be lowering the bar for corruption cases from earlier scandals in which, typically, individuals blatantly handed politicians expensive gifts and cash. At a time when money is flowing into politics as never before, the Justice Department is suggesting that legally reported campaign contributions may constitute bribery if it can be proved that they were given in return for official actions.

It was already known that investigators had been inquiring into Abramoff's dealings with DeLay, who has had to give up his House majority leader post as he fights unrelated conspiracy and money-laundering charges in Texas. They have looked into an expensive 2000 junket that Abramoff arranged for DeLay that included a golf outing at Scotland's famed St. Andrews course. But over the past decade, Abramoff and Scanlon spread money and favors across Capitol Hill. The list of lawmakers who weighed in on the partners' side on one project--blocking the planned casino of a tribal client's rival--totaled at least 33, and together the 33 received $830,000 in contributions from Abramoff clients, according to a recent Associated Press study. One of those lawmakers was Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who received more than $66,000 in donations from Abramoff clients from 2001 to 2004. Reid spokesman Jim Manley says Reid's March 5, 2002, letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton opposing the casino was "consistent with his opposition to attempts to expand Indian gaming" and had "absolutely nothing" to do with a $5,000 donation the following day from the Louisiana Coushattas, the Abramoff client that had opposed the rival casino.

Lawmakers and their staffs took golfing trips that Abramoff arranged--and sometimes paid for--to Scotland and the Northern Mariana Islands. Abramoff's now defunct restaurant Signatures was host to more than 60 fund raisers for members of Congress and often neglected to send a bill. At the lobbyist's delicatessen Stacks, Abramoff even named a sandwich after Congressman Eric Cantor at a $500-a-plate fund raiser in January 2003. (Cantor later asked the deli to switch his namesake sandwich from tuna to roast beef on challah, "a deli special that exudes Jewish power," wrote the Jewish newspaper the Forward.)

Does all that amount to influence peddling, or is it merely the way Washington works? Bribery is a difficult charge to prove. But the investigators' job of determining whether they have a case has been helped by the fact that Abramoff did almost all his most important communicating by e-mail--even with the assistants who sat outside his office, associates say. Also, authorities have collected the daily "wrap-ups" that Abramoff required his assistants to provide, including notations of nearly every phone call and appointment, every favor asked and every payment delivered. Scanlon's testimony, however, could be crucial to making any quid pro quo link that may exist between what he and Abramoff gave lawmakers and what the two got from them.

However jumpy people in Washington are getting about the Abramoff investigation, it has yet to make much of an impact with voters beyond the Beltway. When Ney appeared at the Chamber of Commerce's legislative luncheon in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, last week, he got only one question about it, and that was from a reporter. Some in his district say the allegations against him prove nothing more than what they always knew about politicians. "Why are they nitpicking with him?" asks Edith Gibson, 77, who says she appreciates the work Ney has done for veterans. "Is every other person lily white?" But there's still nearly a year to go before the election, and Democrats say the allegations have created the potential for a competitive race in a district that was once considered a lock for Ney. "He epitomizes the corruption that people around here are sick and tired of," says Dover City, Ohio, attorney Zack Space, who is one of two Democrats so far planning a bid for the seat.

Others are also beginning to feel the heat. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Democrats began running an ad in Montana that attacks Republican Senator Conrad Burns, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that handles tribal matters. Fully 42% of the contributions to Burns' political-action committee from 2000 to 2002 came from Abramoff clients. In 2004 Burns steered a $3 million federal grant intended for tribal schools to a wealthy Abramoff client, the Saginaw Chippewas. The ad implores, "Tell Burns to work for Montana's working families, not indicted lobbyists." The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately countered with a press release pointing out that Montana's other Senator, Democrat Max Baucus, had taken $11,000 from another Abramoff client.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Intoxination has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Intoxination endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)