No Picnic at Speaking Rock

Washington lobbyists shakedown Indian casinos


DORGAN: Also, there is a golfing trip to Scotland by a private jet. And my understanding is that our records disclosed that trip includes passengers Mr. Scanlon, Mr. Abramoff, Representative Ney and Ralph Reed. Would that suggest to you that at least some participants knew most of what was happening here?

The trip to Scotland occurred in the summer of 2002, when everyone but the Tiguas already seemed to know that Dodd never agreed to the Tigua provision in the Help America Vote Act. Yet Abramoff requested that the Tiguas pay for the trip, asking in an e-mail, “if you guys could do 50K.†Abramoff warned that the trip would be expensive because two years ago “we did this for another member — you know who.†(You know who, it was revealed in the Senate hearings, was Tom DeLay, who changed the House rule that prohibited members from accepting golf trips and other favors from lobbyists.)

While it is assumed the Tiguas paid for the trip, the truth has yet to come out in court. Abramoff’s e-mail to Schwartz certainly implied that the Tiguas paid. “BN had a great time and is very grateful, but he is not going to mention the trip to Scotland for obvious reasons,†Abramoff wrote, urging Schwartz to avoid the topic at an August meeting in Ney’s office. “He said he’ll show his thanks in other ways, which is what we want.â€

Ney never got around to showing the thanks, though he did discuss the golf trip at the August 2002 meeting, according to a Tigua source. At the November committee hearing, Dorgan brought the meeting into high relief. He said he couldn’t recall any constituent meeting in any Capitol office that lasted two hours, as did the gathering of Ney, Abramoff, Schwartz, and three members of the Tigua Tribal Council. Dorgan was concerned that much of the two hours was given over to Ney praising Abramoff and reassuring the El Paso delegation that their casino would be taken care of.

There is a certain element of Kabuki in congressional hearings, where small gestures imply large meaning. Chris Dodd was warned well in advance that his good name had been impugned, and he was allowed to prepare a written statement to read at the open hearing on November 17. Bob Ney learned about the committee’s interest in his role in the Tigua affair when a Washington Post reporter asked him about it an hour after the hearing adjourned. A source at the committee hearing said there was something more than senatorial courtesy informing the senators’ less than deferential treatment of Ney.

In the end, Abramoff did not tell his clients until after it passed out of conference committee that their critical nine words were not inserted in the voting bill. There was no other “vehicle,†though there was some discussion of hiding the Tigua provision in an appropriations bill. Nor was there a database, described as late as January 2003 by Scanlon as a “political matrix…designed to hold and make usable all of the data associated with your political army.†The $1.8 million line item in Scanlon’s budget was contracted out for $100,000 and the “political army†was the list of voters, venders, and representatives the tribe itself had given to Scanlon.

But Abramoff couldn’t stop squeezing. In March 2003, after his Tigua revenue stream dried up, he proposed the term-life deal for the tribe’s elders. Within a year his entire Indian gaming scheme would fall apart, after tribal council elections in Louisiana and Michigan elected reform candidates who began leaking documents and talking to federal prosecutors. Lately those prosecutors, according to one source close to the investigation, have expanded their interest from just Abramoff and Scanlon to questions about Congressman Ney.

Lou Dubose is a former editor of The Texas Observer. His new book with Jan Reid is The Hammer: Tom DeLay: God, Money, and the Rise of the Republican Congress (Public Affairs).