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Abramoff trail points to Congress

WASHINGTON - Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's last words as chairman of the
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs had the ring of a seasoned tracker at
the end of a long trail.

"It's a shame that in this enlightened age you had to add a new dimension
to what's been done to the American Indian," Campbell told Michael Scanlon,
the communications specialist accused of working with lobbyist Jack
Abramoff to dupe tribes out of tens of millions of dollars. "... You're the
problem, buddy, in what's happened to Indians."

He referred especially to the seeming greed of the two men, as expressed in
e-mail transcripts released by the committee. They regularly chortle at the
expense of tribes and capitalize their quest for money.

But if Campbell has helped to corner one quarry in Abramoff and Scanlon,
he's walking away from another: Congress. The Senate's only Indian member
retires at the end of the current 108th Congress. And while Campbell's been
second to no one in criticizing Capitol Hill for relying too much on law
books and not enough on the good book, as he has often phrased it, the
committee's Nov. 17 hearing suggested that even the law books have been
left behind.

Campbell leaves the Senate investigation in the hands of Sen. John McCain,
the Arizona Republican who will chair the committee next year. McCain has
given every indication he'll follow the evidentiary trail to its end.

That could be in Congress. In its willingness to barter influence for
money, Congress comes off as the problem Abramoff and Scanlon merely
exploited. The committee heard on Nov. 17 that Abramoff and Scanlon boasted
to tribes of their "special influence" on Capitol Hill. For a price of $4.2
million and more, that influence would be put to work for the Tigua, whose
casino had been shut down by a federal judge after the state of Texas took
it to court. (Abramoff and Scanlon had helped to shut down the casino and
would now accept pay to help reopen it, but that's another story.) The goal
would be to get a clause reopening the casino inserted into a bill that
would then become law.

Anyone can write proposed legislation, of course. But only a congressional
member can actually propose it. Such rare services, if they were for sale,
would bring a high price.

In 2002, Abramoff identified an election reform bill as a potential vehicle
for getting Tigua-specific language into law. He arranged a meeting between
representatives of the Tigua Tribe of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Texas and
Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican in the House of Representatives. Ney
chaired the House team on a conference committee that had been called to
reach a compromise between House and Senate versions of the election reform
bill. Ney's former chief of staff is a one-time colleague of Abramoff's.
Political action committees of Ney's received hefty donations from the
Tigua. Abramoff directed the tribe to make these donations.

According to testimony before the committee, Ney actually demonstrated for
the tribe how he would insert their language into an election reform bill.
But for the bill to become law, Sen. Chistopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of
the Senate conference committee on the election reform bill, would have to
accept the language. Abramoff assured Ney and the tribe that Dodd was on
board.

The documentary evidence released by the committee suggests that Dodd was
the cut-out man, named by Abramoff to the tribe (justifying his efforts)
and to Ney (leading Ney to believe Dodd supported the Tigua-specific bill
language). Dodd denied knowing Abramoff or Scanlon or anything about the
Tigua-specific language until late in the legislative process, when two Ney
staffers approached him. Dodd then refused to consider the proposed new
language for the bill. He condemned Abramoff and Scanlon in a statement
issued on Nov. 17. The Tigua were out $4.2 million, as well as over
$300,000 in donations.

Ney, a recipient of Tigua donations through his political action
committees, denies knowing beforehand that Dodd was against the
Tigua-specific insertion into an unrelated bill. But in any event, enriched
by Tigua donations, Ney carried the bill as far as he could, even though
Ohio hosts no tribes and tribal casinos are not an uppermost issue there.

During the Nov. 17 hearing, committee members asked Michael Scanlon if he
felt that he had betrayed Abramoff in failing to line up Dodd's support.
But The Washington Post, citing Scanlon's company and "knowledgeable"
sources, reports that Scanlon did authorize large payments to the
Democratic National Committee and to a Dodd committee staffer who
eventually approached him with Ney's proposed language.

Scanlon did not answer any questions.