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

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

IR // News // Ex-Burns aide talking to feds in Abramoff investigation

By JENNIFER McKEE - IR State Bureau - 12/13/2005
HELENA - A former top aide to U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who quit to work at the firm of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff said Monday he is talking to Justice Department investigators as part of the agency's continuing probe of Abramoff's activities.

Reached at his Bozeman office, Will Brooke, Burns' onetime chief of staff, said he has hired a lawyer in the matter.

"I'm not concerned about anything," said Brooke, who is a lawyer. "I just wanted to make sure somebody was there to hear the interview."

Brooke said he is participating in the investigation to provide information. He has not been told that he might be a subject of the investigation, he said.

Burns is one of four lawmakers publicly linked to the ongoing Abramoff lobbying probe.

Burns received almost $150,000 in campaign donations, more than any other lawmaker, from Abramoff clients between 1999 and 2004, a Washington Post tally published Monday shows. Burns' role in securing federal money and help for Abramoff clients has been the subject of controversy.

Burns has said the Justice Department has never contacted his office for its investigation and that he has not hired a lawyer to represent him in the matter.

Brooke said he contacted the Justice Department; investigators did not seek him.

"This has been voluntary and wide open," he said. "I don't feel there was any wrongdoing here. I'm trying to give them anything and everything that is helpful in their course of investigating Abramoff."

Brooke served as Burns' chief of staff from November 2000 until the end of 2003. Brooke flew on Abramoff's corporate jet to the 2001 Super Bowl to attend the game at Abramoff's invitation. The trip was paid for by Abramoff's lobbying clients.

From 2001 to 2003, Abramoff's tribal clients gave $129,000 to Burns and his political action committees.

Brooke quit his post on Burns' staff in December 2003 to work at Abramoff's lobbying firm, where he was employed in 2004. The hiring occurred shortly after Burns helped secure a controversial $3 million grant for one of Abramoff's tribal clients, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan.

Brooke started his own lobbying firm, based in Bozeman, earlier this year.

Abramoff - and the high fees he charged newly wealthy Indian tribes - is the subject of a U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation. The Justice Department is also investigating Abramoff's dealings with lawmakers.

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have both reported that Burns is one of the lawmakers the Justice Department is looking into. Both papers cited anonymous sources. There has been no official announcement that Burns is under investigation.

Burns' possible connections with Abramoff were first raised in March when the Washington Post reported that Burns was influential in getting the $3 million school construction grant for the Saginaw Chippewa. The tribe is one of the wealthiest in the country because of its tribally owned casino. Burns' support for the $3 million came over the objections of the Interior Department, which concluded the school was not eligible for the grant money.

Burns has repeatedly said that neither Abramoff's influence nor the campaign contributions of his clients had any bearing on Burns' support of the $3 million grant. Burns has said he supported the $3 million appropriation at the request of Michigan's senators, both Democrats.

However, e-mails released last month in the Senate's investigation show that the lobbyist sought Burns' support for the grant.

In one e-mail, Abramoff said he would get Burns to call Interior Secretary Gale Norton about the money. Abramoff said the idea came from Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles.

"(Griles) told me to have Burns call Norton and I asked Will to get that done, and he will," read an e-mail Abramoff sent to co-worker Todd Boulanger on Sept. 15, 2003.

The e-mails don't further identify the "Will" whom Abramoff asked to "get that done." Will Brooke was Burns' chief of staff at the time.

Burns spokesman James Pendleton said he couldn't talk about Brooke's participation in the Justice Department probe because Brooke has not worked for Burns for two years. He said it's not unusual for Burns to call the Interior secretary, given that he's chairman of the Senate committee that controls the department's budget.

Pendleton said the e-mail does not say Burns called Secretary Norton at the behest of the lobbyist.

"There is no end result indicated," Pendleton said. "It only says that Abramoff wanted Burns to make a particular phone call and would ask 'Will' to make that happen."

Brooke did not respond to inquiries as to whether he might be the "Will" referred to in the e-mail.

Regardless, Pendleton said, a lobbyist's wish that a Senate staffer do something is not proof that it actually happened.

"Senator Burns does not make calls on behalf of lobbyists to anyone," Pendleton said.

Sen. Dorgan Returns Tribes' Donations

By JOHN SOLOMON, Associated Press Writer
December 13, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - The top Democrat on the Senate committee investigating Jack Abramoff's Indian lobbying is returning $67,000 in donations in response to Associated Press reports that he collected tribal money around the time he took actions favorable to those Abramoff clients.

While Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., never met Abramoff and didn't take any actions at the lobbyist's behest, he nonetheless wants to return the money to avoid any appearances that tribal money was directed to him by the controversial lobbyist, his office said Tuesday.

Dorgan is the senior Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that has spent more than a year investigating alleged fraud in Abramoff's representation of Indian tribes, which were charged tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees between 2001 and 2004.

AP reported in three stories over the last month that Dorgan did not disclose during the probe that he took actions favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients, often around the time he collected donations from Abramoff's firm or clients. For instance, Dorgan:

-Used Abramoff's arena skybox in March 2001 to raise money, letting one of Abramoff's tribes foot the bill for using the box. The senator says he didn't know at the time that Abramoff leased the box. He's recently reimbursed that money.

-Got Congress in the fall 2003 to press government regulators to decide, after decades of delay, whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts deserved federal recognition. Dorgan met with the tribe's representatives and collected at least $11,500 in political donations from the Abramoff partner representing the Mashpee around the time of the help.

-Collected $20,000 from Abramoff's firm and tribes in the period around when he wrote a letter in 2002 urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund a school construction program that Abramoff's clients and other tribes wanted. The letter mentioned one of Abramoff's tribes.

The Coushatta tribe of Louisiana told AP they were directed by Abramoff to make a $5,000 donation to Dorgan's group just a few weeks after the 2002 letter was sent.

The return of the money was first reported in Tuesday editions of The Forum in Fargo, N.D. Dorgan told the newspaper he did not want to "knowingly keep even one dollar in contributions if there is even a remote possibility that they could have been the result of any action Mr. Abramoff might have taken.''


Copyright 2005 Star Tribune. All rights reserved


(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.)