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Senate committee to continue Abramoff investigation

Indianz.Com Listening Lounge
Introduction - 10:45 - 1.83MB
Italia Federici - 78:14 - 13.4MB
Video | Documents
The explosive investigation into disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff will continue amid unresolved allegations involving tribes, Republican interests and potential nonprofit abuse, leaders of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee said on Thursday.

At what was billed as the final hearing into the scandal. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the committee chairman, agreed to look into alleged fraud involving a small gaming tribe. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman, said Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico spent $2.7 million, a higher figure than previously disclosed.

"We've uncovered almost unbelievable things here," Dorgan said in his opening statement. "We've uncovered activities that are pretty disgusting, some perhaps criminal, many unethical."

McCain didn't immediately indicate whether he will call a hearing to take testimony from Sandia Pueblo, which owns a successful casino right outside Albuquerque. But he said investigators would try to find out how the $2.7 million was spent.

"I think it's important to make clear if there's other allegations of mistreatment of Native Americans, it's our obligation to continue to conduct our oversight responsibilities," McCain said.

At an earlier hearing, McCain said the tribe paid $125,500 to Abramoff's former law firm and questioned what work was provided for that amount. The tribe has acknowledged paying $1 million to Michael Scanlon, a public relations executive who is accused, along with Abramoff, of bilking several tribes out of an estimated $80 million. The tribe dropped both Abramoff and Scanlon, with Gov. Stuwart Paisano saying the high fees didn't justify the services.

In addition to Sandia, Dorgan strongly pushed for the committee to look into the activities of several people whose names have surfaced repeatedly during the investigation. Although he didn't outright disclose those identities, it was clear he was referring to Republican activists like Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, who had personal and financial relationships with Abramoff and his wealthy gaming clients.

"I believe there are a group of names that need to be interviewed by our investigators and I have made such a recommendation," Dorgan said. At prior hearing, he has attempted to question witnesses about their relationship with Reed and Norquist.

McCain didn't respond directly to the request but laid out his plans with respect to the ongoing probe. He said the committee will prepare a letter for the Senate Finance Committee to address alleged abuse involving nonprofit organizations that received hundreds of thousands of donations from tribes.

He also reiterated the committee's plan to draft a report that will make recommendations on ways to ensure tribes aren't defrauded in the future. The effort could result in some legislative proposals to reform tribal lobbying practices. McCain has already introduced one such bill.

The comments were a prelude to the testimony of Italia Federici, a Republican with close ties to Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Federici worked on Norton's failed 1996 U.S. Senate campaign and currently serves as president of Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that Norton co-founded with Norquist after that campaign.

Federici proved to be an extremely combative witness during the 90-minute hearing. She frequently interrupted McCain and Dorgan, prompting McCain to threaten to hold her in contempt of Congress.

She also directly challenged McCain and Dorgan for conclusions they have drawn about CREA and its relationship with Abramoff and former deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, who has returned to the lobbying world. McCain and Dorgan accused her of doing Abramoff's bidding by contacting Griles about tribal issues and asking for tribal donations in return.

CREA received about $400,000 from Abramoff's former tribal clients but all of it went for environmental work, Federici said. She said she contacted Griles, her friend of more than a decade, because Abramoff, another friend, asked her to do so. She said she didn't always reach Griles due to his busy schedule.

Federici raised a personal issue with McCain, suggesting that he is using the investigation to go after her and other Republicans because they have opposed his initiatives. In a deposition that hasn't been made public but which was referenced several times yesterday, she accused the committee of a "witch hunt" because CREA and its allies defeated a McCain-sponsored bill that she said would have raised gasoline prices.

"I'm dancing around an issue here that I think it's time to mention," Federici said. "A lot of the money was used, that was raised during this time period, was spent constructing the labor-environmental alliance" whose major project was opposing the legislation, she said.

Tribal donations were used for the effort, she said, because they donated to CREA's general fund. McCain looked on with bewilderment as Federici gave her testimony.

November 2, 2005, Hearing:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee

Relevant Documents:
Exhibits from Hearing | Senate Witness List / Testimony

Relevant Links:
Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy -