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,
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,"
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
"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
Witness List / Testimony
Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy - http://www.crea-online.org/crea