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McCain Won’t Target Members

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has assured his colleagues that his expanding investigation into the activities of a former GOP lobbyist and a half-dozen of his tribal casino clients is not directed at revealing ethically questionable actions by Members of Congress.

At a Senate Republican luncheon last Wednesday, McCain told the gathering that his own probe, being run through the Indian Affairs Committee, is simply looking into potential “fraudulent” activities perpetrated against the tribes by Jack Abramoff and his associates.

“It’s not our responsibility in any way to involve ourselves in the ethics process [of Senators],” McCain said Wednesday, explaining the comments he made to his fellow GOP Senators. “That was not the responsibility of the Indian Affairs Committee.”

McCain’s comments to Republicans, made at the weekly lunch of the GOP’s Steering Committee, came on the same day a trio of stories landed in Washington newspapers raising questions about the legislative actions taken by two GOP Senators and political donations to an interest group established in 1997 by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Because of those stories — and several other news reports touching on Abramoff’s relationship with Members — McCain said he wanted to let Senators know that he was not trying to air any of their dirty laundry.

“There were all kinds of rumors that were flying,” he said. None of the stories were sourced to the committee and McCain said he played no role in them.

His investigation, in which a new round of hearings are expected later this spring, would continue to instead center on “where Indian tribes were defrauded,” and focus specifically on the $82 million that Abramoff and his public relations associate, Mike Scanlon, charged to six tribes over a three-year period, McCain said.

His disclaimer came as two Senators involved in the latest round of Abramoff stories, Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and David Vitter (R-La.), said they welcomed any investigation and promised to help McCain in any way.

“I want to assure you and the committee full cooperation of my personal office in the committee’s investigative efforts,” Burns wrote to McCain last week.

As Roll Call and reported last Wednesday, Burns and his political committees received at least $134,000 in contributions from Abramoff and his tribal clients in 2001 and 2002, during which he had hired a former aide from Abramoff’s firm to a top Senate position. The Washington Post reported that Abramoff later hired another of Burns’ top aides. The Post also reported that Burns, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, with spending oversight of tribal issues, helped send $3 million for a school project to one of Abramoff’s tribal clients in Michigan.

On Wednesday, Burns said he has instructed his staff to start an internal review of all actions that the Senator and his office conducted related to Abramoff or any of his associates at the lobbyist’s former firm, Greenberg Traurig, which pushed Abramoff out a year ago as the controversy first came to light. “We are going through our records to see what happened,” Burns said, noting that McCain’s assurances weren’t necessary.

“It doesn’t make any difference. Whatever they want out of our office, whatever they need, I’m willing to do that,” he added.

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