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Abramoff Scandal
Abramoff tried to exploit tribes for Washington project


Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff planned to "use" one of his tribal clients in order to land a lucrative piece of property in Washington, D.C., according to documents filed in federal court on Friday.

Abramoff and his team hatched an extensive lobbying scheme to take control of the Old Post Office Pavilion in downtown Washington. They sought the help of a friendly Bush administration official as well as several members of Congress -- including Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who is already under investigation for his role in the scandal -- to ensure the property could be developed by a tribal client under special government rules for minority-owned businesses.

Abramoff had one problem -- none of his tribal clients were ever interested in leasing the Old Post Office, according to the documents. But that didn't stop him from putting the plan on the fast track in hopes of securing a prized piece of real estate in between the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

"I like this approach," Abramoff wrote to an associate in a July 6, 2002, e-mail. "I just have to figure out the tribe to use."

The e-mails present the most complete picture of the Post Office scheme to date and the extent of Abramoff's willingness to exploit his tribal clients. Previously, news reports indicated that one of the tribes actually wanted the land.

The messages, however, show that Abramoff was the one calling the shots. In discussing the matter with Jon van Horne, a fellow lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig, it is clear the men developed the scheme first and then planned to take the proposal to one of the tribes.

"Whichever tribe goes with this needs a new entity asap," wrote van Horne, who has since left the firm, on the evening of July 6, 2002. "Suggest (tribe) Historic Property Development. LLC, or some such."

Within a couple of hours, Abramoff was debating whether to go with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, primarily known as a gaming tribe, or the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, also a gaming tribe but one with significant federal contract experience. "My instinct is Coushatta, but each tribe has complications," Abramoff told van Horne. "Can I use any of our tribes, or is only Choctaw qualified for this?"

Going with the Choctaw might work if the tribe was qualified for special minority contracts, van Horne responded. "Should I ask?" he wondered.

"Yes, see if you can find out," Abramoff wrote back that same night. "if so, then I have to get to them fast."

In hopes of landing the deal, Abramoff lobbied David Safavian, a former colleague who was the chief of staff at the General Services Administration, which handles federal properties, at the time. Abramoff was already pressing Safavian on another piece of government property in the Washington area.

The effort occurred at the same time Abramoff took Safavian, Congressman Ney, Republican activist Ralph Reed and several others on a lavish golf outing to Scotland. Safavian has since been indicted for lying to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and federal investigators about his involvement in the trip. The documents filed on Friday were filed as part of Safavian's case, not Abramoff's.

Besides approaching the administration, Abramoff and his team asked at least four members of Congress for assistance. One of them was Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a big supporter of Alaska Native contracting, who wrote a letter to the GSA that supported the leasing of the Old Post Office to a minority-owned business.

Young has since said in public that his intervention had nothing to do with Abramoff, his tribal clients or the campaign contributions they made. Since the e-mail exchange indicates that no tribe was interested in pursuing the Post Office, it's possible that Abramoff may have presented a different picture of the deal to Young and the other members of Congress.

Abramoff also sought the help of Ney, who was chairman of the House Administration Committee that was handling an elections reform bill at the time. According to court documents and Senate testimony, Ney had already agreed to insert a rider in the measure to help the Tigua Tribe and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, both of Texas, reopen their casinos.

Abramoff hoped to take the same approach with the Old Post Office. "If we were to craft something oblique, any chance of slipping into the election reform bill?" he asked fellow lobbyist Neil Volz, a former chief of staff to Ney, on July 21, 2002. "I know we are loading that up, but I thought I'd ask."

Abramoff E-mails:
Which Tribe To Use? | Might be Choctaw, Might Be Choctaw, Doesn't Matter

Relevant Links:
Old Post Office Pavilion - http://www.oldpostofficedc.com