60 Congressmen Rip Off Native Americans
- As many as 60 U.S. Congressmen may be implicated in Bribery scandal
December Friday 2nd 2005
The Abramoff affair: Corruption scandal threatens Republican control
of US Congress Michael Scanlon, a Republican political operative,
publicist and former press spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay, pled guilty November 21 to conspiring with lobbyist Jack
Abramoff to bribe a Republican congressman and cheat several American
Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars.
Scanlon's guilty plea-and even more his agreement to cooperate fully
with federal prosecutors and testify against former colleagues-has
sent a chill through Republican ranks and raised the prospect of
numerous indictments, convictions and jail terms for congressmen and
congressional staffers as well as Bush administration officials
involved in the rampant corruption of official Washington.
By the end of last week, there were press reports that at least four
Republican legislators and 17 staffers and former staffers were the
targets of the Justice Department investigation into the Abramoff
affair. The Wall Street Journal named DeLay, Congressman Robert Ney of
Ohio, Congressman John Doolittle of California, and Senator Conrad
Burns of Montana as targets, as well as several former Bush
administration officials. The Washington Post reported that
prosecutors had informed Congressman Ney that he was the subject of a
bribery investigation and added that the wives of DeLay and Doolittle
had also been linked to Abramoff's influence-peddling schemes.
The Abramoff affair could have much wider implications. A reporter for
BusinessWeek, on a television interview program, said that his Justice
Department sources had told him that as many as 60 congressmen could
be implicated in the bribery scandal-far more than enough to threaten
control over the House of Representatives, where the Republican
majority is 231-202, with one independent.
The Associated Press named eight more congressmen and senators who
received contributions engineered by Abramoff in return for political
favors, four Republicans and four Democrats. The Republicans were
congressmen Charles Taylor of North Carolina, J. D. Hayworth of
Arizona, Todd Tiahrt of Kansas and Dave Camp of Michigan. The
Democrats included three senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of
Michigan and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota (the senior Democrat on the
committee now investigating the Abramoff affair), and Congressman Dale
Kildee of Michigan.
Previous press accounts have noted that House Speaker Dennis Hastert
of Illinois, a Republican, and the leading Democrat in the Senate,
Minority Leader Harry Reid, received substantial campaign
contributions from groups directed by Abramoff, most of them Indian
tribes seeking congressional favors for their casino gambling operations.
While some of these contributions went to leading Democrats,
particularly members of the Indian Affairs committees of both houses,
the bulk of the cash went to the Republicans-both because they had the
deciding role, as the majority party in both houses, and because
Abramoff built his lobbying empire on his longstanding ties to top
Republican figures like DeLay, chief Bush political aide Karl Rove,
anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, former head of the
When Abramoff was president of the National College Republicans in the
mid-1980s, his two top deputies were Norquist and Reed. All three went
on to prominent positions in far-right politics. Abramoff turned to
lobbying for the Nicaraguan contras and anti-communist terrorist
groups in southern Africa, and then, especially after the Republican
takeover of Congress in 1994, to lobbying for commercial and business
With the installation of the Bush administration, the well-connected
Republican lobbyist could virtually name his price for
influence-peddling, and he rapidly became a multi-millionaire
wheeler-dealer, representing, among other companies, Tyco
International and Unisys Corp.
The essential mechanism of Abramoff's operations, as detailed in press
accounts and Senate hearings over the past 18 months, was to plunder
the extensive lobbying funds provided by Indian tribes with lucrative
gambling operations. Abramoff directed much of these funds to Scanlon,
who left DeLay's office in 2000 to set up a publicity firm in
Washington to cash in on his high-level Republican connections.
Scanlon then kicked back half the profits secretly to Abramoff.
From 2001 to 2004, according to documents filed in federal court in
Washington DC, Abramoff and Scanlon together raked in some $82 million
in payments from the Indian tribes. Scanlon himself billed four Indian
tribes $53 million during this period, while kicking back $19 million
under the table to Abramoff.
The 35-year-old Scanlon, who was still paying off college loans from
his congressional staff salary in 1999, became a millionaire
overnight, buying several million dollars in beachfront property in
Delaware shortly after going into business for himself. Five years
later, even after agreeing to $19 million in restitution to the
tribes, according to one press account, he still retains significant
Abramoff manipulated the Native American tribes, using his influence
with Christian fundamentalist groups opposed to gambling in order to
extract what amounted to political protection money. In the most
notorious case, Abramoff mobilized the Christian fundamentalists to
spike the bid of a smaller Indian tribe to establish a casino that
would have undercut the profits of his clients, the Louisiana band of
The Coushattas hired Abramoff and Scanlon to shut down a casino run by
the Jena band, another Louisiana tribe, at Livingston, Texas, on the
Texas-Louisiana border. At Abramoff's direction, the Coushattas
funneled money to various Republican political action committees and
conservative groups, including two campaign committees run by DeLay,
ARMPAC and TRMPAC.
Abramoff and Scanlon used Ralph Reed as their contact with Christian
right groups and also contacted John Cornyn, then the Texas attorney
general, now a US Senator, seeking legal action to block the Jena
casino. Reed organized a group of 50 pastors to meet with Cornyn. He
subsequently told Abramoff in an e-mail, "We have also choreographed
Cornyn's response. The AG will state that the law is clear... and
pledge to take swift action to enforce the law." The ministers were
reportedly unaware that their moral outrage at gambling was being used
to aid one gambling interest against another.
Even more brazen was the effort of Abramoff and Scanlon to funnel
millions of dollars through Reed for a campaign to shut down the El
Paso, Texas casino run by the Tigua tribe. After the casino was shut
down, Abramoff and Scanlon induced the Tiguas to hire them to wage a
campaign to allow the casino's reopening. Although the Tiguas paid out
millions, however, this effort failed.
Abramoff and Scanlon discussed their devious operations in language of
unvarnished cynicism, as revealed in e-mail exchanges made public by
the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. In one memo to Abramoff, Scanlon
wrote, referring to the Christian fundamentalists: "The wackos get
their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail,
the internet and telephone trees. Simply put, we want to bring out the
wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public
lets the whole thing slip past them."
This could serve as a crude but nonetheless telling summary of the
entire political strategy of the Bush administration: mobilize the
"wackos" while keeping everyone else in the dark.
While there has been substantial media publicity over Abramoff's
gulling of the Indian tribes, the Republican lobbyist has been
indicted so far only in an unrelated case of business swindling in
south Florida, when he and an associate took control of SunCruz, a
cruise line that offered gambling tours, using allegedly fraudulent
financial information and bad checks.
With Scanlon's testimony, however, an indictment for swindling the
Indian tribes could be forthcoming shortly. The most recent Wall
Street Journal and Washington Post accounts reveal that the Justice
Department task force looking into the influence-peddling cases has
grown to 35-40 people, suggesting that multiple high-level criminal
cases could be brought.
Particularly ominous, from the standpoint of targeted congressmen, is
the prospect that criminal bribery charges could be brought over
campaign contributions, even though the cash did not go directly into
the congressmen's pockets, but to finance their reelection efforts.
The whole purpose of the elaborate Federal Election Commission ritual
has been to legalize the escalating financial subsidies from corporate
interests to legislators.
One of Abramoff's favorite tactics was to hire the wives of
congressional staffers or of the congressmen themselves, providing
what amounted to a direct payoff under the cover of employment. One
Abramoff-linked company, Alexander Strategy Group, run by former DeLay
staffers Edwin Buckham and Tony Rudy, hired Christine DeLay, the
congressman's wife, "to determine the favorite charity of every member
of Congress," according to a Washington Post account. This not
terribly complex job-presumably 435 phone calls would have
sufficed-resulted in payments to Christine DeLay of $3,200 to $3,400 a
month for three years, for a total of $115,000. The DeLays' family
lawyer, Richard Cullen, told the Post, "It wasn't like she did this 9
to 5, but it was an ongoing project. This was something that she found
to be very interesting, very challenging and very worthwhile."
As the criminal information published by the Justice Department in
connection with Scanlon's guilty plea states, the contributions to the
congressional campaign funds as well as personal gifts, such as Super
Bowl tickets, vacation trips, and expensive restaurant meals, were "in
exchange for a series of official acts." These included passing
legislation, agreeing to put statements into the Congressional Record,
contacting federal officials to influence decisions, meeting with
Abramoff's clients, and awarding contracts for improvements in
congressional office buildings.
While the Republican lobbyist has so far only been indicted in the
Florida case, and has not yet been convicted of any crime, the details
flooding out into the media demonstrate the extraordinarily corrupt
alliance of Christian fundamentalists, Jewish ultra-Zionists, anti-tax
zealots and rabid neo-conservative ideologues in the service of
The scandal-the word is unavoidable but inadequate, since it is here
describing the rule, not the exception, in today's Washington-reaches
into the highest rungs of the Republican Party leadership and the Bush
administration. DeLay, forced to step down as House Majority Leader
after his indictment on an unrelated political corruption case in
Texas, is the first top-level casualty. He once described Abramoff as
"one of my closest and dearest friends."
A mid-level White House official, David Safavian, chief procurement
officer at the Executive Office and previously chief of staff at the
General Services Administration, was indicted last month on charges
that he lied to federal investigators about a junket he took with
Abramoff, Reed and Congressman Ney to Scotland.
There may well be further White House reverberations. According to
documents released November 9, Abramoff sought a $9 million payment
from the West African nation of Gabon to arrange a meeting with
President Bush. Abramoff asked for the money to be paid through wire
transfers to a company he controlled privately, rather than to the
lobbying firm of Greenberg Traurig, where he was then employed.
President Omar Bongo met with Bush in the Oval Office 10 months later,
but there has as yet been no confirmation that he either made the
payment to Abramoff or received the invitation in return. White House
officials denied any connection, claiming that the Bongo visit was
"part of the president's outreach to the continent of Africa."
December Friday 2nd 2005
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