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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Guest Blog: More on McCain/Heather Wilson Ties to Latest Abramoff Indictment

This is a guest blog by Daily Kos diarist Land of Enchantment. It was originally posted on Daily Kos. I previously posted on this issue here, but this in-depth piece goes into greater detail and examines John McCain's behavior in relation to the Abramoff scandal.

Sandia Pueblo, near Albuquerque in NM-01, happens to have an excellent location for a casino. They've come a long ways since their modest Bingo Room back in the 1990s. Casino proceeds have built a variety of community facilities, placed a computer in every home, and plowed a lot back into additional economic development. This is their newly-opened resort:

Sandiaresortsmqk6_2

The mountains behind it are the Sandia Mountains, traditional spiritual place for the small Tiwa-speaking tribe. That piece of turf was claimed by the US after the Mexican-American War and later incorporated into the National Forests. The tribe was involved in ongoing efforts to protect their interests and traditional activities in the Sandias. When the the money started coming in from gaming, they decided to hire a lobbyist. Who did they hire? To the tune of $1.7 million? Jack Abramoff. And who presided over the associated Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings? And sealed 98% of the hearing's documents? John McCain!

McCAIN's INDIAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEARINGS
This ties back to McCain. Why? Because of the Indian Affairs Subcommittee hearings on matters Abramoff during 2006. Back then, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) chaired the committee, and presided over the hearings. By the time the dust settled, Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio went to jail, Richard Pombo and others got fired by the voters, and a bunch of other Republicans decided to retire. That's a big part of why the Democrats stand to move up in the legislative branch this year - prominent Republicans like Sens. John Warner and Pete Domenici are retiring (and a lot of not-quite-so-prominent ones, too.)

McCain points to these hearings as proof of bucking his party. Let's keep in mind that the hearings put all members of the House and Senate off-limits as part of the ground rules. It did look into the Interior Department, and so touched upon the portion of the Abramoff operation relating to Indian gaming. But the vast majority of the documents accumulated in the conduct of those hearings have been sealed. Only about 2% of the documents were released for public scrutiny.

More on that to follow below.

It has been hypothesized that there's some kind of a coverup going on. The Bush justice department has pursued the matter. Rep. Bob Ney from Ohio did go to jail. Pombo and others were not re-elected. John Doolittle (CA-04) and others decided not to run for another term. This week there was a new arrest in the case: One Kevin Ring, former Doolittle staffer, later a lobbyist working for Abramoff. (The full 46-page indictment is available in PDF form.)

There's a lot about Representative 5 in there, John Doolittle. And some talk about a [New Mexico tribe]. Doolittle might end up in jail yet, and it would not be undeserved. But a bit of a back burner story. Not like Doolittle's running for re-election or anything. And no wonder - it's his former Chief of Staff, after all. From MSNBC:

At one point in 2000, Doolittle's then-chief of staff told Ring in an e-mail that Doolittle had said he felt like a "subsidiary" of Abramoff's firm, the indictment says.

Doolittle's attorney, David Barger, defended the congressman in a statement Monday. "It is clear that portions of the Kevin Ring indictment were designed to make gratuitous references to the congressman and his wife. This appears to have been done to titillate the public, with the foreseeable and therefore intended consequence of attempting to embarrass and pressure the congressman," the statement said.

Turns out there's a New Mexico angle in this indictment, too.

HEATHER WILSON
Sandia Pueblo is within the boundaries of NM-01, the district of Rep. Heather Wilson, the failed Senatorial candidate.

2 - On or about December 20 , 2001 , defendant RING sent an email captioned " [ New Mexico tribe] (sp?)" to Abramoff in which he wrote, "Need to talk to you about a potential new client. Would need Scanlon, too. " A few months later, on or about February 14, 2002, Abramoff sent an email to Scanlon in which Abramoff informed Scanlon that "[0]ur Kevin Ring New Mexico Ship has just arrived!! We have a meeting 11 am Wednesday next week with the [New Mexico tribe] here in DC. They are desperate and rich. Kevin is desperate for some $ and a big client.

We'z gonua be rich(er) ..."

It's kinda quaint, really. How the names are all "disguised". The names of all the tribes involved have long been known. The only one in New Mexico was Sandia Pueblo. Similarly, covering up the names of the governmental officials is curious. But such are the rules of the game we play by. Turns out, deep in the 46-page indictment is a presumed reference to our own NM Rep. Heather Wilson. Sandia's in her district, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised. Looks like ol' Nipplegate Heather follows basketball as well as football. (Note that "Governor" is the title for the head of NM Pueblo tribes' governments.)

155. On or about July 17, 2002, defendant RING emailed the New Mexico tribe's governor and others to inform them that the executive branch official had called a U.S. Senator to support the settlement agreement.

156. On or about January 30, 2003, a lobbyist at Firm B emailed a staffer for the New Mexico tribe' s U.S. Representative, "Sorry I couldn't hangout last night. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to han[g]out with the [New Mexico tribe]. It meant a lot to [K]evin and I [sic]. BTW, you should be all set for the [Los Angeles] Clippers [basketball] game."

And in today's Albuquerque Journal, Heather Wilson has felt moved to respond:

Mr. Kevin Ring hosted a fundraising lunch at Signatures Restaurant to benefit my campaign for re-election in May 2003 and contributed $1,000 to my campaign on June 2, 2003. When we discovered that Mr. Ring had not submitted a bill for the cost of the fundraiser to my fundraising consultant, our consultant sought to pay the bill and, when unsuccessful because the restaurant was no longer in business, my campaign made an equivalent contribution to charity as required by Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules.

She did help the tribe get the land settlement, which she should have done anyhow, as Representative for a tribe supposedly covered by Federal Trust responsibilities. She and her staff did get stuff of value from the tribe's lobbyist. Quid pro quo? We'll probably never know

At any rate: Wilson's name hadn't been linked in with the Abramoff web before. The Sandia part of the story was almost a sidebar. The tribe didn't spend much money, dropped the lobbyist, and managed to get a land-claim settlement they could live with. At the time the Abramoff scandal busted open, the Albuquerque Journal reported (you have to watch an ad to follow the link for free):

Stuwart Paisano, who served as Sandia's governor until last week, said Tuesday the pueblo was in legal settlement negotiations with the firms and could not talk about specifics of Sandia's monetary arrangement. He said the pueblo paid more than $1 million to the two men. "Our council has no ill feelings," he said. "We were able to get the mountain back, which was our only goal. Obviously we made some poor choices in who we hired."

Abramoffcheckspoofde5

Presumably, this part of the story was in the Indian Affairs subcommittee's millions of sealed documents. And, one wonders, what other "dirt" on various Republicans got buried. And before anyone gets wound up and says "What about corrupt Dems?", it is probably good to remember that the Abramoff operation was part of the Republican plan for a "permanent majority". Democrats were completely shut out. Abramoff only dealt with Republicans.

And that, my friends, is why this story matters. Abramoff is in jail. Ring is arrested. Doolittle and Wilson aren't standing for re-election. But John McCain presided over burying a lot of evidence in the course of those hearings. There were a coupla sacrificial animals: Abramoff and some of his crew had to go; a few people left their jobs at Interior; and Bob Ney got snagged. Plus Delay & Pombo and others were driven from office. Is McCain sitting on favors in all those sealed documents? (Favors bordering on extortion?)

In keeping Wilson's name out of the news, he could be credited with her keeping her seat. She won by a very narrow margin of 105,986-105,125. A few headlines tying her to this scandal during 2006 could easily have made the difference.

For all the good it did. She's OUT this year anyhow. She had other help, too. The US Attorney scandal, Albuquerque chapter, was all wrapped up in it, too. She and Domenici were both damaged for their interference with David Iglesias. Less often mentioned was the Bob Perry-funded ad campaign mounted in the weeks before the election attacking Wilson's challengers NM Attorney General Patricia Madrid over the same case Iglesias got fired over - for not producing indictments as fast as would be helpful to the needs of the effort to re-elect Heather.

BACK TO McCAIN
This new association of a sitting member of Congress with the Abramoff scandal brings the question of those sealed Indian Affairs Committee documents front and center. What other stories and ties have been hidden from the public? Who else did McCain spare from sunlight on Abramoff's many tentacles into the Republican majority in Congress?

It's not clear to me why, now that there's a Democratic majority, these materials all remain sealed. I've called the new Chairman of Indian Affairs, Senator Dorgan's (D-ND) office, was referred to the Committee. But all the reception I was afforded was to have my query referred to voice mail. I've heard nothing back. It's this kind of thing that disappoints me about the Democratic majority. This kind of thing really should be seeing sunlight.

TIMELINE (background info)
It's probably good to keep the timeline of all this in mind. The Abramoff scandal blew up with some Washington Post stories in December 2005. McCain got his hearings up and down in 2006, and all the documents were sealed. Republicans lost the House and the Senate in 2006, and the US Attorney scandal came to light in early 2007.

From MSNBC again - some related summary:

To date, the ongoing Abramoff investigation has resulted in 13 guilty pleas by various lobbyists and public officials, including former lobbyist Michael Scanlon, who pleaded guilty in November 2005 to conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud. Former lobbyist and congressional staffer Tony C. Rudy pleaded guilty in March 2006 to conspiring with Abramoff, Scanlon and others to commit honest services fraud, mail and wire fraud, and a violation of conflict of interest post-employment restrictions. In April 2007, Mark D. Zachares, a former high-ranking aide to the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and in June 2008, John C. Albaugh, a former chief of staff to a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives pleaded guilty to the same charge. In April 2008, Robert Coughlin, a former Department of Justice employee, pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest. Scanlon, Rudy, Albaugh, Coughlin and Zachares are all cooperating and awaiting sentencing.

In addition, Ohio Congressman Robert Ney pleaded guilty in September 2006 to conspiracy to commit multiple offenses, including honest services fraud, making false statements in violation of his former chief of staff's one-year lobbying ban, and making false statements to the U.S. House of Representatives. Ney was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Neil Volz, former lobbyist and chief of staff to Congressman Ney, pleaded guilty in May 2006 to honest services fraud and violating the one-year lobbying ban and William Heaton, former chief of staff for Congressman Ney, pleaded guilty on February 26, 2007, to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. Volz and Heaton cooperated in the government's investigation and were each sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a $2,000 and $5,000 fine, respectively.

McCain's hearings were in 2006. There was some flashy stuff, and names like Italia Federici (with ties to Gale Norton & Steven Griles at Interior) had their 15 minutes of fame. It garnered, actually, many hours of coverage on C-SPAN, and a few bits on the cable channels. And then the report came out, and the documents were sealed. A few were punished, and many more were protected.

John McCain might like to brag about his corruption-fighting ways. But it's fair to say that he likely protected many more than were punished, even with a wrist slap. Meanwhile, Wilson - who more likely than not benefited from McCain's sealed documents - is busy supporting his campaign." :

Wilson has been a stalwart supporter and prominent surrogate for John McCain, painting him as a crusader against Washington corruption. Just last night, she appeared on MSNBC's Hardball to make the case for him, and last week she told NPR: "John McCain has chosen a reformer ... to be his running mate and I think that's a perfect complement to who he is and what he's done in his life."

Ralph Reed, too, was tied up in the Abramoff imbroglio, and lost his bid to become Lt. Governor of Georgia because of it. Even Garrison Keillor got in on the act! Ralph Reed now, too, serves as a surrogate for the McCain campaign. Plus whatever he's pulling behind the scenes.

So much for rooting out corruption! He's got it right in his campaign. And really, before McCain get's too much credit for those hearings, the 98% of the hearing documents that have been sealed need to see the light of day. Doolittle, and now Wilson, have had their names tied to the scandal. It's likely John McCain's sealed documents are the only reason we've not seen Wilson's name publicly associated with the "permanent majority" machine before, even though she has benefited from it, and supported it like a good soldier. I'm guessing that McCain will come out smelling not so sweet when all that content comes to light.

And who knows who else's involvement has been buried in those sealed documents.

This is a guest blog by Daily Kos diarist Land of Enchantment that was originally published on Daily Kos. Mexico. Guest blogs provide an opportunity for readers to express their opinions on matters relevant to the blog. If you'd like to submit a post for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.

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September 10, 2008 at 03:36 PM in Corporatism, Crime, Ethics & Campaign Reform, Justice, Native Americans | Permalink

Comments

Has anyone filed a Freedom of Information Act on the 98%? I'd also like to see all the paper generated by Cheney's private energy hearings.

Great piece making sense of this story for all of us. We will remember.

Why didn't the Democratically controlled 110th Congress unseal the records?

Posted by: Douglas | Sep 10, 2008 8:53:21 PM

Why would the Democrats have released the records? They couldn't even vote any punishment for the telecoms or enforce the subpoena of Rove. Prolly they were biding their time to coast to victory.

Posted by: Ortiz | Sep 10, 2008 9:01:38 PM

So, what's it take to unseal the documents? Now would be a good time. What are the DEMS waiting for?

Posted by: qofdisks | Sep 10, 2008 10:29:23 PM

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