Indian Affairs Readies More Abramoff Subpoenas

Posted October 19, 2005 at 6:46pm

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee was set to issue subpoenas on Wednesday to a GOP environmentalist close to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, as well as a former employee of Michael Scanlon, a one-time business associate of ex-Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Indian Affairs Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 26 to review Abramoff and Scanlon’s business dealings with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.

Following consultations with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), ranking member of Indian Affairs, McCain prepared subpoenas for Italia Federici, president of the Council for Republican Environmental Advocacy, and Chris Cathcart, a former associate with Capitol Campaign Strategies, one of Scanlon’s firms, according to sources close to the committee.

Kathryn Van Hoof, former outside counsel to the Coushattas, was also to receive a subpoena.

GOP sources also said that McCain was in talks with Abramoff’s former firm, Greenberg Traurig, to send a representative to next week’s hearing, although there were problems over attorney-client privilege and other issues that were had yet to be worked out late Wednesday.

McCain’s office declined to comment on the subpoenas or potential witnesses for the hearing.

The Coushattas were one of Abramoff’s most lucrative clients, paying him more than $6 million from 2001 to 2004 for lobbying work. The tribe also paid Scanlon at least $25 million for grass-roots consulting work, a large portion of which was then funneled back to Abramoff. A Justice Department task force is investigating Abramoff and Scanlon’s business dealings.

The Coushattas have sued Abramoff and Scanlon in state court, as well as Greenberg Traurig, accusing them of fraud and overbilling the tribe, among other things.

The bulk of Abramoff’s work for the Coushattas involved his efforts to gin up opposition to a plan by a rival Louisiana tribe, the Jena Choctaws, to open their own casino, a move that could have siphoned off customers from the Coushattas’ casino.

Federici worked on Norton’s unsuccessful Senate campaign in Colorado in 1996, and maintained close ties to the Cabinet official. Federici served as an unofficial link between Abramoff and Interior Department officials during the long fight by the Coushattas to convince the federal government to turn down the casino application by the Jena Choctaws, according to media reports. Federico also assisted Abramoff in getting Interior to kill a casino project in Michigan opposed by another Abramoff client.

Federici warned senior Interior officials that prominent Christian conservatives such as Ralph Reed and James Dobson were concerned about the spread of Indian casinos, all of which was part of a campaign by Abramoff to create political pressure on the department. Abramoff and Scanlon, though, were also secretly routing millions of dollars to companies controlled by Reed to help in the effort. Part of Wednesday’s hearing will focus on Reed’s involvement in the Coushatta effort, according to McCain.

CREA, which was founded by Norton and GOP activist Grover Norquist in the early 1990s, received at least $150,000 in contributions from the Coushattas in 2001-02, money that was directed to the organization by Abramoff, according to public statements from tribal officials. CREA itself received a subpoena earlier this year from a federal grand jury investigating Abramoff and Scanlon.

Abramoff, who was indicted in August on federal mail and wire fraud charges, repeatedly appealed to Federici for help in lobbying Stephen Griles, then deputy secretary of Interior, in 2002 and 2003 and e-mails obtained by The Washington Post and Denver Post showed she was successful in both cases in gaining his support for Abramoff’s clients. Federal officials are reportedly looking into the propriety of the contacts between Federici and Griles, as well as Griles’ intervention in casino decisions within Interior.

Cathcart was Scanlon’s “right-hand man” at Capitol Campaign Strategies, according to testimony given to the panel earlier this year by another ex-employee, Aaron Stetter.

Stetter testified on June 22 that Scanlon and CCS would create phony Christian front groups to conduct anti-gambling phone campaigns in Louisiana. Although secretly financed with money from the Coushattas, themselves a casino operator, the campaign was designed to prevent any further casinos from opening there, thus preserving the Coushattas’ valuable franchise.

Van Hoof, the former Coushatta outside counsel, declined to comment on the Indian Affairs subpoena or anything else about her relationship with the tribe.