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Abramoff Scandal
Dorgan vows to continue Abramoff lobbying probe

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will continue its investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) said on Monday, blasting conflict-of-interest allegations raised last week.

At a press conference in Bismarck, North Dakota, Dorgan said the probe is far from over. Over the past 18 months, he said he and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the committee, have uncovered "an almost unbelievable scheme to defraud Indian tribes."

"We are determined to continue that investigation to its conclusion," Dorgan, the committee vice chairman, said in remarks that were distributed by the United Tribes Technical College, a tribal college that hosted the press conference.

Dorgan used the occasion to criticize an Associated Press report that linked him to the lobbyist he is now investigating. The story, which ran during the Thanksgiving holiday, noted that Dorgan received a campaign contribution from one of Abramoff's wealthy tribal clients.

The story suggested the contribution prompted Dorgan, in his position as the top Democrat on the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, to write a letter in support of a school construction program that helped Abramoff's tribal clients. Dorgan said the accusation was "completely and demonstrably false."

"It�s not surprising that from the sleazy world of those who defrauded the Indian tribes, we have seen bogus charges against those of us who are doing the investigating," Dorgan said. "But our investigation will continue."

The statement was accompanied by an admission by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana that it gave $5,000 to Dorgan at Abramoff's direction, not because he wrote the letter. The Associated Press ran an updated story but didn't issue a correction or clarification of the situation.

"The fact is, I have never received a campaign contribution from Mr. Abramoff, but I have received reelection support from Indian tribes long before Mr. Abramoff got involved with Indian tribes," Dorgan said yesterday.

McCain has already come under fire for taking on Republican lobbyists, some of whom are allied with conservatives who opposed his failed 2000 presidential bid against George W. Bush. GOP activists, particularly Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, have accused McCain of using the investigation to go after his political enemies.

McCain and Dorgan have dismissed the charges but they have lingered as the committee has held a series of high-profile hearings. At the most recent one, a Republican environmental activist directly challenged McCain, suggesting the investigation was payback for her group's opposition to one of his legislative proposals.

"I'm dancing around an issue here that I think it's time to mention," Italia Federici, the president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, said at the November 17 hearing as McCain looked on with a look of disbelief amd amazement.

This isn't the first time a conflict-of-interest allegation has been raised involving the investigation. According to The Hill newspaper, a legislative assistant who works in Dorgan's personal office is married to a former associate of Abramoff's who worked on tribal issues.

The associate, Stephanie Leger Short, is a Democrat who worked for the Greenberg Traurig firm but was asked to resign after her role in the scandal came to light. Her name appears in several e-mails that the Senate committee has released as part of its probe.

The November 17 was the committee's final hearing on the matter but McCain said investigators will look into Abramoff's dealings with Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico. Dorgan wants the committee to look at the involvement of GOP activists like Norquist and Ralph Reed.

"The committee's job is far from done. Many questions remain unanswered, including the role of many others involved in the Abramoff scandal," said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group. Sloan is a former Democratic Congressional aide.

David M. Gipp, the president of United Tribes Technical College, praised the investigation. "North Dakota's tribal leaders support Senator Dorgan and his leadership, particularly as he seeks the truth on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about such lobbyists as Jack Abramoff," Gipp said. "It�s the hope that this will lead to some reform of those who would take advantage of Indian tribes."

November 17, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Documents

November 2, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Senate Witness List / Testimony