Washington Post Blog: The Fix: How the Abramoff Scandal Helps McCain
Comment: "From the interview I heard, McCain was not forthcoming. As Chairman of Indian Affairs, he has dragged his feet in this investigation."
Comment: "I worked on the Hill. I have seen McCain behind the curtain. When he snaps (gets mad), he really snaps."
The leader of a Senate probe that prompted a wide-ranging investigation of corruption and fraud in Washington, D.C., expects more indictments in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) predicted "lots" of indictments in the case. "This town has become very corrupt," he said yesterday. "There's no doubt about it."
McCain wouldn't comment on any people who are being investigated. But he acknowledged there is "strong evidence" that some members of Congress are involved.
"There's strong evidence that there was significant wrongdoing, but I'm not a judge or jury," the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee said.
The case so far has led to two indictments. Former public relations consultant Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty on November 21 to one count of conspiracy to defraud tribes and bribe a public official. He agreed to pay $19.6 million in restitution to four tribes and faces a sentence of up
to five years.
But he remains a free man in order to cooperate with the Department of Justice about his dealings in Washington. A key target is Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who agreed to sponsor legislation for the Tigua Tribe of Texas, as well as the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, after receiving money and other "things of value," according to federal investigators.
The other person who has been indicted isn't helping out. David Safavian, a former Bush administration official and former tribal lobbyist, said he was charged only because prosecutors wanted his cooperation in the Abramoff case. He has pleaded not guilty to lying to McCain's committee and to other investigators.
On the NBC show, McCain said he hasn't been in contact with the Department of Justice. The public integrity and fraud sections -- which are part of the department's criminal division -- are leading the investigation. The FBI and the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General
are also assisting.
McCain said he launched the investigation after receiving complaints from "some disgruntled tribal council members in a small tribe in Louisiana." He was referring to the Coushatta Tribe, whose leaders had spent $32 million on Scanlon and untold amounts on Abramoff. Those leaders have since left office or were ousted.
Despite suggesting possible indictments, McCain reiterated that his committee only had authority to look into tribal matters -- not into any lawmakers involved. "We have an Ethics Committee," he said, but he added that he doesn't think the process is "working very well."
Still, McCain questioned the actions of some members of Congress who have been drawn into the debate. He said lobbyists in Washington are working to insert "secret" provisions in appropriations bills, a tactic that was used numerous times in the Abramoff saga.
"So therefore, someone who wants some money or a policy change hires a lobbyist who is well connected," McCain said. "They go to the appropriate subcommittee or committee, appropriations, and they write in the line item. That part has to be fixed, I think, as much as anything else."
In the case of Abramoff, his team of lobbyists were successful in placing a number of items into the Interior Department's appropriations bill for fiscal year 2004. The measure included at least three provisions that benefited Abramoff's tribal clients and their interests [PDF: Conference Report
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, has acknowledged meeting with an Abramoff associate in 2003 as the bill was considered. It contained language that urged the Bureau of Indian Affairs to speed up consideration of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's federal recognition petition. The tribe had hired Abramoff's firm to make the case for recognition.
Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana), the chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, set aside a $3 million school construction grant for the wealthy Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, one of Abramoff's clients, even though the program was meant for poorer tribes. Dorgan
had no involvement with this provision, Burns' office has said.
Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) took credit for language that urged the Bush administration not to approve off-reservation casinos. Vitter acknowledged receiving help from Abramoff's associates in drafting the provision. The Coushatta Tribe was opposing another Louisiana tribe's bid for gaming.
In all three examples, the senators received donations linked to Abramoff and held fundraisers at his sports arena suite or his former restaurant. According to news reports, only Burns -- who received $136,500 from Abramoff's clients, the most of any member of the House or Senate --- is being looked at as part of the DOJ probe. At least two other Republicans, their former
staffers and even some of their spouses are said to be involved.
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has held a total of five hearings on the scandal. McCain and Dorgan plan to continue the investigation to resolve unresolved allegations involving a New Mexico tribe and potential non-profit abuse.
Dorgan also wants the committee to look into Republican activists who have been linked to the scandal. His stance has prompted a number of negative news articles that have questioned his role as an investigator while detailing his dealings with Abramoff's former tribal clients.
"Both of us have been attacked in the press recently either by, or orchestrated by, those we are investigating," Dorgan said last week in response to the scrutiny. "The investigation Senator McCain and I are conducting has been a relentless one, and we will not be diverted from it," he added.
Meet the Press:
John McCain, Thomas Kean & Lee Hamilton
(December 4, 2005)
November 17, 2005, Hearing:Video
November 2, 2005, Hearing:Video
List / Testimony
June 22, 2005, Hearing:Video
| Exhibits 2
List / Testimony
November 17, 2004 Hearing:Video
List / Testimony
September 29, 2004 Hearing:Video
List / Testimony
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