An e-mail trail of money and influence
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"Ahhh - the glamorous world of non-profit work - about one half step above beggar!" she concluded in an Oct. 4, 2001 e-mail to Abramoff.Skip to next paragraph
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In subsequent communications with Federici and others, Abramoff called CREA "our access to Norton" and talked about "our guy Steve." He bragged about quashing Interior Department policies that are against his client tribes' interests, and weighed in with his thoughts on who should get key Interior jobs.
But Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, chairman of the Indian Affairs committee, has said the panel has found no evidence that Norton was aware that Abramoff was invoking her name for gain. Griles has testified that he treated Abramoff no differently than other lobbyists.
And within the e-mail trail are hints that Abramoff didn't have quite the juice he claimed. He was taken by surprise when Norton named Aurene Martin acting head of Indian Affairs in January 2003 - just the sort of thing a well-connected lobbyist should know in advance.
And by July 2003, he appeared to be out of the loop, reduced to begging for advice.
Griles "won't discuss any of my clients with me," he complained in a July 17 e-mail to Federici. "The problem is that since he won't do so, and since you are not able to chat with him now, I am left in a real dilemma. I can't deliver anything from Interior for my clients."
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Another aspect of lobby life well illustrated in the Abramoff e-mails is infrastructure maintenance. As in, how to get your clients to share the bill for those must-have trappings of success, such as stadium boxes.
In May 2001, Abramoff asked Kathryn Van Hoof, chief counsel of the Louisiana Coushattas, if the tribe wanted to join some of his other clients in his sports suites program. For $185,000, Abramoff wrote in an e-mail, tribal leaders could be official cosponsors of his existing luxury boxes for D.C.-area baseball, hockey, and football venues.
This investment would translate into approximately 400 fundraising opportunities, Abramoff promised, virtually all used by members of Congress or their organizations.
"The huge leverage in doing this is that the tribe not only gets the political credit for making available the sports suite, but gets credit with the Member for all funds raised in that evening," wrote Abramoff.
Pressed by Ms. Van Hoof for more details, Abramoff said the Coushattas would be taking the place of some withdrawing Russian clients. Personal attendance is not a requirement of the deal, said the lobbyist; the Choctaws sent a representative "very rarely", his Marianas clients "never." The tribe should instead send a couple of framed items to hang on the football stadium and MCI Center walls.
"It helps when you attend, but if you are not there, we still make a big deal about you guys being their hosts and we spend a lot of time discussing the tribe," wrote Abramoff.
In Washington, clients of lobbyists are accustomed to being directed where to send large sums of money. Lists of lawmakers and organizations deemed important for the client to support are a staple lobbyist product; a number of these lists are included in the trove of Abramoff e-mails and documents.
Thus a request for an Indian tribe to pay $185,000 to allow other people to watch a football team named "Redskins" did not apparently strike the Coushattas as out of line. The tribe cut the check for the program on May 25, 2001.
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Finally, if you're going to be a player in the lobby game, you've got to accept the concept of strange bedfellows. Your ally today can easily be the group that was at your throat last week.
Thus one of Abramoff's primary weapons for protecting the gambling interests of his Indian tribes was the antigambling Christian right. For at least three projects between 1999 and 2002, Abramoff enlisted the help of Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and current candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor.
The logic went this way: Use opponents of gambling to stamp out new gambling proposals that threaten the profits of existing casinos. And Mr. Reed enthusiastically rallied antigambling troops:
"We are opening the bomb bays and holding nothing back. If victory is possible, we will achieve it," wrote Reed in a 1999 e-mail to Abramoff regarding a campaign to kill an Alabama casino proposal for the benefit of the Mississippi band of Choctaw Indians.
But Reed and his campaign firm were expensive, prompting Abramoff to finally explode.
"He is a bad version of us! No more money for him!" the now-admitted felon e-mailed his partner Michael Scanlon in 2002.