Panel Almost Set to Start Hearings on Abramoff

Posted September 10, 2004 at 4:23pm

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is in the final stages of its investigation into Indian gaming and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, with a hearing on the issue pushed back two weeks to allow for the collection of more information.

The committee’s hearing on the more than $45 million in lobbying and public relations contracts that Abramoff and his confidant, former Hill aide Mike Scanlon, raked in over three years is now slated for Sept. 29.

It will likely begin with the unveiling of a staff report on the probe, according to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a senior member of the panel and the presumed chairman next year if the Republicans maintain Senate control. McCain has pushed the six-month investigation at the same time that the Justice Department has convened a grand jury to investigate possible financial crimes.

“We’re going to have more than one hearing, for sure,” McCain said last week.

McCain and the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), said that the delay in the hearing, which was originally scheduled for this week, is intended to allow the panel’s investigators more time to compile information and gather subpoenaed material.

“They’ve had some information that they need to assimilate better,” McCain said.

“Some of the people we’ve subpoenaed we’re still negotiating with,” Campbell added.

Another key factor, Campbell said, was to avoid “jeopardizing” Justice’s investigation, which is being carried out as an interagency task-force probe, including the inspector general of Interior Department, which has oversight of American Indian tribes.

“We don’t want to get in their way,” he said.

The criminal probe has focused on Abramoff and the interlocking web of financial enterprises he was involved in, ranging from his former law and lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, to the charities and restaurants he was able to open because of the lucrative deals he struck with a handful of tribes.

Abramoff has denied any wrongdoing and charged that the probe is being inspired by political infighting among the tribes. Scanlon maintains that his fees are relatively cheap in a multibillion-dollar industry.

Greenberg Traurig, which fired Abramoff in March, has been subpoenaed by the grand jury, as have a host of other figures, including the wife of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), whose event-planning firm did work for an Abramoff charity. Several of the tribes have also been subpoenaed.

The McCain-led Senate probe has focused more on the propriety of charging such high fees for Abramoff’s lobbying assistance and the grassroots efforts led by Scanlon. The hearings could prove to be embarrassing for Abramoff, once considered one of the most powerful men on K Street due to his close connections to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

As Roll Call recently reported, Scanlon and Abramoff made so much from the tribes that at one point they paid out about $4 million to Ralph Reed, the Christian conservative strategist, to work against the efforts by one tribe to open a casino so that the Abramoff-Scanlon client, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, would remain competitively strong in the casino industry.

The witness list for the hearings has not been finalized. McCain said that if the Congressional calendar does not allow time for enough hearings to fully air the issue, he may hold additional hearings early next year.