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

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

NRSC plans multi-state attack tying Democrats to Abramoff

By Peter Savodnik

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is planning a public-relations offensive tying leading Democrats to lobbyist Jack Abramoff in an effort to neutralize accusations that Republicans have been embroiled in a ?culture of corruption.?

The campaign will zero in on Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, both Michigan Democrats; and the Democratic Senatorial Committee (DSCC), among others, for taking money from Abramoff?s former clients.

Stabenow is up for reelection next year; Reid and Levin are not. With the entry of Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard (R) into the Senate race in Michigan, many leading Republicans believe they have a reasonable chance of unseating the first-term senator.

Republicans have spent months trying to blunt Democratic ethics charges. But the new communications blitz ? which will include disseminating talking points to Capitol Hill Republicans and flooding local media with information linking Democrats to Abramoff ? marks a more coordinated effort to halt the anti-GOP tide.

NRSC spokesman Brian Nick said the campaign committee would ?be getting the resources? not only to senators up for reelection but to all members of the Republican Conference ?so that they can offensively message that Democrats are playing partisan politics with an issue that involves all of Congress.?

Nick indicated the NRSC would almost certainly run television ads countering DSCC ads attacking Republicans for their association with Abramoff. ?Anybody would be able to safely assume that there are going to have to be ads to respond to those ads,? Nick said, referring to the Democratic spots.

Democrats said the GOP media campaign reflects fears that some Republicans who had not been deemed vulnerable might lose next year. Topping that list, these Democrats said, is Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who has been attacked for his connections to Abramoff.

Fears of a rout of Republicans next year, members of both parties say, have metastasized in recent months, as White House officials and congressional Republicans have been ensnarled in a series of investigations, court hearings and, in some cases, bribery charges, including White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and former vice president Chief of Staff I. Lewis ?Scooter? Libby, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas), former Rep. Randy ?Duke? Cunningham (Calif.) and Rep. Bob Ney (Ohio).

?Now that the Republicans have gotten their hand caught in the cookie jar, they are doing whatever they can to divert attention from the corruption that has become the defining characteristic of the GOP majority,? DSCC spokesman Phil Singer said. ?It?s not going to work.?

A Democratic aide in Washington said the ethics charges Democrats have lodged against Republicans could tip the balance in other key Senate battlegrounds: In Pennsylvania, Sen. Rick Santorum (R) has faced criticism for his alleged role in the K Street Project, which aimed to purge Democratic lobbyists from Washington.

Jay Reiff, who is managing Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey?s campaign against Santorum, noted that Casey recently issued an ethics plan that would end the K Street Project and slow the ?revolving door? between Capitol Hill and lobbying shops, among other provisions. Santorum?s media consultant, John Brabender, said Casey is trying to deflect charges lodged against the Democrat involving a fundraiser he held in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

In Florida, meanwhile, Rep. Katherine Harris (R) has been attacked for receiving $51,000 from two defense companies, MZM Inc. and ADCS Inc., associated with Cunningham, who resigned from Congress earlier this month after pleading guilty to bribery.

Harris, who is the GOP front-runner to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in 2006, announced Friday she would donate the $51,000 to charity.

Nick, the NRSC spokesman, said there are mounds of evidence linking Democrats to Abramoff. He cited a $6,000 contribution from the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, an Abramoff client, to Stabenow; $322,000 from Abramoff clients to the DSCC; and $66,000 from Abramoff clients to Reid, among other contributions.

The Democratic aide countered that ?political donations are part of the political process. There is nothing inherently wrong about receiving a political donation. It becomes an issue when it appears that services are being rendered for [it].?

Reid?s spokesman Jim Manley dismissed any suggestion of ethical wrongdoing on the senator?s part, adding that Reid has a long history of fighting an expansion of Indian gambling.

A Democratic source close to Stabenow said that the senator hadn?t been unduly influence by a Michigan Indian tribe but had simply met with, and received support from, some of her constituents.

?This is like trying to call out Debbie for working for GM,? he said.

Some Republican officials have drawn parallels between the party?s handling of the Abramoff scandal in 2005 and its effort to contain the Enron blow-up of 2002.

A GOP strategist agreed, pointing out that during the turmoil surrounding the corporate scandals, the NRSC put out a document that was more than 50 pages detailing Democratic ties to Enron.

?It?s good that they?re engaging on this issue to show the Democrats that this is not just a pox on their house,? the strategist said.

High-stakes players who gambled at the table with Casino Jack

High-stakes players who gambled at the table with Casino Jack
By Josephine Hearn

In the fall of 2003, a butterfly in Louisiana flapped its wings. The American Press in Lake Charles reported that members of the gambling-rich Louisiana Coushatta Indian tribe were questioning lavish fees their leaders had paid to two Washington political insiders, lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations consultant Michael Scanlon.

Since then, the scandal surrounding Abramoff has metastasized into one of Washington?s most widespread corruption investigations, spreading to members of Congress, administration officials, lobbyists and activists. One longtime congressional observer has said the imbroglio ?has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century.??

Federal investigators signaled recently that their probe could implicate as many as six members of Congress and upwards of a dozen former congressional aides and lobbyists.

Four people have already been charged ? Abramoff, Scanlon, his Florida business associate Adam Kidan and David Safavian, the former top procurement official for the Bush administration ? and one member of the House, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), has been subpoenaed and dubbed ?Representative #1? in court documents describing his alleged misdeeds. Rumors abound that Abramoff is close to making a plea deal with prosecutors, a development that could speed future indictments.

Democrats hope the thickening miasma of corruption hanging over Republican-controlled Washington will translate to Democratic gains in the 2006 midterm elections, as long as none of their own becomes ensnared.

Republicans are bracing for the worst. Prosecutors in the Department of Justice?s Public Integrity Division are working their way up the political food chain, first extracting a plea from Scanlon two weeks ago, now focusing on Abramoff, the unabashed leader of the operation.

Here The Hill takes a look at the major figures in the Abramoff scandal and the names that may well be on the lips of the politiscenti in 2006.

Jack Abramoff
Known as ?Casino Jack? to his lobbying rivals, Abramoff arrived in Washington in the mid-1990s after a brief stint as a B movie producer in Hollywood. By 2003, he was arguably the greatest rainmaker on K Street, parlaying his contacts with conservative Republicans into a client roster heavy with rich and politically naive Indian gambling tribes.

Abramoff?s alleged modus operandi was to convince tribal clients to hire Scanlon for public relations work at an exorbitant rate, then take a cut to support his personal causes, such as an all-boys Jewish school in the Maryland suburbs and, famously, a ?sniper school? for kibbutz residents in Israel. He allegedly directed tribal clients to make millions of dollars of political contributions and donations to conservative think tanks and nonprofits, some legitimate and some merely vehicles for the duo?s personal funds.

All told, he and Scanlon allegedly fleeced the tribes of more than $80 million. The vast sums solidified Abramoff?s position atop Washington?s lobbying corps. He wined and dined public officials and their family members, treating them to expensive trips abroad, offering them use of a private jet and tickets to sporting events, lavishing them with campaign contributions ? all while seeking their support for his clients? legislative goals.

Abramoff and a partner were indicted in August in Florida on charges they misled lenders in a $147.5 million deal to buy a casino boat chain, Sun Cruz, in 2000. Abramoff has pled not guilty. That trial begins Jan. 9.

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas)
DeLay was introduced to Abramoff in the mid-1990s by South African Rabbi Daniel Lapin, founder of Toward Tradition, a coalition of Jews and evangelical Christians. DeLay toasted Abramoff as ?one of my closest and dearest friends? during a 1997 trip they took to the Northern Marianas Islands, where Abramoff represented the government trying to prevent U.S. minimum-wage laws from being imposed on the territory.

DeLay and Abramoff also traveled on a golfing excursion to St. Andrews, Scotland. The 10-day $70,000 trip was paid for largely by two of Abramoff?s tribes, although DeLay?s official disclosure report listed the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank on whose board Abramoff served, as the sponsor. Then DeLay aides Susan Hirschmann and Tony Rudy accompanied DeLay and Abramoff on the trip.

Michael Scanlon, Abramoff?s principal business partner
Unlike Abramoff, who was the son of a Diners Club executive and attended high school in Beverly Hills, Scanlon came from lesser means. He was still paying off college loans when he left DeLay?s office in 1999 after serving two years as a press aide.

He landed at Preston Gates, where he and Abramoff began their lucrative partnership, and in a few short years he had bought several multimillion-dollar properties on the Delaware shoreline and was renting a $17,000-a-month apartment at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington.

At a hearing two weeks ago to finalize his plea agreement, the tanned Scanlon laughed and joked with reporters even as he was agreeing to pay nearly $20 million in restitution. He will aid the government?s investigation.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio)
Ney says he has not been told he is the target of any investigation, but Scanlon?s plea agreement asserted that the six-term lawmaker accepted meals and trips from Abramoff ?in exchange for a series of official acts and influence.?

In 2000, when Abramoff was seeking to buy SunCruz, Ney inserted comments in the Congressional Record that were ??calculated to pressure the then-owner to sell on terms favorable?? to Abramoff and a partner, the agreement says.

In 2002, Abramoff?s tribes paid for a golf outing to Scotland during the time when Ney was seeking to add a provision benefiting an Abramoff client to an election reform bill that fell under his committee?s jurisdiction. Ney has maintained that he was ?duped? by Abramoff.

Grover Norquist president, Americans for Tax Reform
Norquist was the campaign manager for Abramoff?s successful 1981 bid to become chairman of the College Republicans. After the two reunited in D.C., Norquist served as a pass-through for over $1 million in funds, some of which were destined to support Ralph Reed?s grassroots organizing for Abramoff. Norquist brokered a meeting with President Bush for the chief of one of Abramoff?s tribes.

Tony Rudy
Abramoff hired this former deputy chief of staff to DeLay right from the Hill in 2001. Prosecutors are reportedly focusing on these job negotiations between Rudy and Abramoff and whether Rudy may have been offered employment in return for an official act. A firm run by Rudy?s wife, Lisa, received funds from Abramoff through Toward Tradition while Rudy was in DeLay?s office.

Rudy has joined Alexander Strategy Group, a firm headed by former DeLay Chief of Staff Ed Buckham. Rudy accompanied Abramoff on a number of junkets, including a 2000 trip to Pebble Beach to watch the U.S. Open golf tournament and the 2000 Scotland trip.

Neil Volz
Volz, Ney?s former chief of staff, left the Hill in 2002 to join Abramoff?s operation at Greenberg Traurig. His job negotiations with Abramoff are of interest to prosecutors, recent press reports have said.

Adam Kidan
Kidan is a unique figure in the unfolding scandal. A New York native and former Dial-A-Mattress franchisee, Kidan had done business with people who had done business with the Gambino crime family. His mother was killed in 1993 in a mob robbery gone awry.

He and Abramoff gained control of SunCruz, after which the company paid nearly $250,000 to companies controlled by two men with mob ties, Anthony ?Big Tony? Moscatiello and Anthony ?Little Tony? Ferrari. Soon after, SunCruz?s former owner, Gus Boulis, was ambushed and killed on a Fort Lauderdale street on his way home from work. Moscatiello, Ferrari and another are charged with the murder.

David Safavian
Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration until he was arrested in August and charged with lying to investigators about Abramoff?s interest in leasing the historic Old Post Office Building in D.C. and another federal property. Safavian, a former chief of staff to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), accompanied Ney and Abramoff on the 2002 Scotland trip at the same time he and Abramoff were discussing the properties. Safavian helped start Janus-Merritt Strategies, a consulting firm, with Norquist. He later worked at Preston Gates, helping Abramoff represent the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Italia Federici
Tony Rudy and another DeLay aide put Abramoff in touch with Federici, president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), shortly after Gale Norton was named interior secretary in 2001. Federici had worked on Norton?s 1996 Senate bid in Colorado and calls her a mentor. As head of CREA, a group Norton had founded in Colorado, Federici rapidly became Abramoff?s envoy to Interior, using her access to Deputy Secretary Steve Griles to press issues of importance to Abramoff?s tribes. Abramoff directed his clients to donate to CREA, ultimately funnelling nearly $500,000 to it, Federici testified at a recent Senate hearing.

Steve Griles
Griles, former deputy interior secretary, carried water for an Abramoff?s tribe on issues at Interior, according to e-mails and testimony before a Senate panel, although it is unclear how much influence he had on final decisions. He denies having helped the tribes. Abramoff offered Griles a job at Greenberg Traurig but Griles rejected it.

Ralph Reed
The former Christian Coalition head was contracted by Abramoff and Scanlon on a number of occasions to stir up evangelical opposition to new casinos that could threaten the existing business of Abramoff?s clients. Reed, who is running for Lt. Governor in Georgia received over $5 million from the duo and has said he did not know he was being paid by gambling interests, but e-mails released later suggest he did.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)
As chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Burns supported provisions that benefited Abramoff?s clients. His staff enjoyed expensive trips paid for by Abramoff. And his chief of staff, Will Brooke, and state director, Shawn Vasell, went to work for Abramoff.

Burns backed a provision that provided an Abramoff tribal client with $3 million to build a school even though the tribe already enjoyed significant income from gambling. Brooke and another Burns staffer flew on a SunCruz jet to the 2001 Super Bowl, where they each received $500 in casino chips to use on a SunCruz boat. Then DeLay staffer Tim Berry also came along, as did Rudy.

Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.)
Doolittle?s wife, Julie, did fundraising work for Abramoff in 2002 and 2003. Her company?s records have been subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating Abramoff. Doolittle was one of many lawmakers who signed a letter opposing plans to build a casino in Louisiana that could threaten gambling operations run by an Abramoff tribe. A former Doolittle staffer, Kevin Ring, went to work for Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig.

Ed Buckham
Abramoff helped Buckham, a Christian minister and former DeLay chief of staff, set up his lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, in 1997 by referring clients. Buckham and Scanlon worked to elect an influential legislator in the Marianas Islands who later directed lobbying contracts to Abramoff. Buckham?s firm employed DeLay?s wife, Christine, in a non-lobbying role.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)
The nine-term congressman was frequently treated to meals at Abramoff?s upscale Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant, Signatures, where he claimed he dined with Abramoff as a friend, not a lobbyist. Rohrabacher served as a reference for Abramoff when he applied to lenders for $60 million to buy SunCruz. Rohrabacher said this spring that he did not remember being listed as a reference but would have been happy to have been. ?He?s a very honest man,? he told The Washington Post.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)
Vitter inserted language into the fiscal 2004 interior appropriations bill that benefited a tribal client of Abramoff?s by preventing a rival tribe from establishing gambling operations. Vitter also worked closely with an anti-gaming group, the Campaign Against Gaming Expansion, that was funded by Abramoff?s client, although Vitter says he did not know the group?s source of funding. Vitter has said he has never met Abramoff nor has he received campaign donations from the lobbyist.

Louisiana tribe gave to Florida legislators - State News

Tamara Lytle Washington Bureau Chief

December 7, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A Louisiana Indian tribe embroiled in a bitter fight to stop a competing casino doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to lawmakers throughout the country -- including a few in Florida.

PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign finance, on Tuesday released a list put together by the Coushatta tribe of its planned donations to about 60 campaign committees for lawmakers and other political groups.

The recipients -- who received more than $300,000 from one day's worth of checks alone -- were chosen by tribal lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a tribal council member told The Kansas City Star.

Investigators are now trying to find out whether Abramoff overcharged his tribal clients. He also has been indicted on fraud charges related to the purchase of SunCruz Casinos in South Florida.

Federal Elections Commission records show Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, and Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Longboat Key, each received $1,000 donations from the tribe in 2002. The Coushatta tribal list also shows Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, was due to get a $1,000 donation.

But federal records show no such donation to Keller was accepted. His staff said Tuesday that he likely turned down the money because he does not accept contributions from gambling interests.

At the time, the Coushattas were trying to block a competing casino by the Jena band of Choctaw Indians. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington said they spent big money and ultimately blocked the casino by winning their arguments with the Department of the Interior.

"The question is, 'What did they get for the money?' " Sloan said. Several lawmakers, including leaders of both parties, wrote letters to the Department of the Interior supporting the Coushattas after receiving campaign donations from them. "[The incident] says the system is for sale to the highest bidder."

Aides to Feeney and Harris said their bosses did nothing to help the Coushattas.

"She was just not influenced by the contribution," said Kara Borie, spokeswoman for Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Earlier this year, Feeney came under criticism for accompanying Abramoff on a Scotland golfing trip. Congressional rules forbid House members from accepting trips from lobbyists, and Feeney said he thought an eligible nonprofit group had paid for it.

"To our knowledge, we have never done anything on behalf of Mr. Abramoff, any of his Indian-related clients or any of his other clients," Feeney spokesman Myal Greene said.

Keller refuses to accept donations from gambling interests and had opposed a casino for the Seminole tribe in Central Florida.

"He just doesn't support the expansion of gambling," said his chief of staff, Bryan Malenius.

Another set of contributions that came under fire Tuesday includes money linked to former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.

Keller, Harris, and Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Crystal River, each received $1,000 donations from Cunningham, who recently resigned after pleading guilty to accepting bribes from defense contractors.

Feeney received $5,000 from Cunningham. Staff members for Brown-Waite, Feeney and Keller said the money was raised legally at the time, and they do not plan to return it.

Harris also received numerous donations from others involved in the Cunningham scandal, including those associated with defense contractor MZM.

Borie said Harris will be donating the $51,000 in contributions to charity soon.

"Upon learning of the appalling criminal activity connected with Cunningham and MZM, Harris is voluntarily donating the money to charity. Harris finds Mr. Cunningham's actions abhorrent and a violation of the trust of those who honored him with elected office."


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