WASHINGTON — In August 1997, then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and his friend lobbyist Jack Abramoff were at the Moscow Country Club — the most exclusive golf course in Russia. Hotel records obtained by NBC News show DeLay stayed two nights, in room 229, with Abramoff next door.
The cost of DeLay's room, with all the amenities, was $295 a night. On the bill, charges for DeLay and his chief of staff are mixed with Abramoff's — room charges, sports pool bar, mini bar and phone, for a total of $3,302.50
NBC News has learned the expenses were, in fact, put on the credit card of a lobbyist and a Russian businessman. A document obtained by NBC News suggests DeLay was informed soon after the trip, by the non-profit National Center for Public Policy, that it paid the bill — which is allowed under House rules.
A source close to the case says $885 was charged to Abramoff’s credit card, and records indicate the rest was put on the credit card of Alexander Koulakovsky, general manager of a Russian oil and gas company called NAFTASib.
“The true bottom ethical issue,” says Jim Cole, a former House Ethics Committee outside counsel, “is whether or not there was some sort of influencing of Mr. DeLay that was being done by this money or not.”
Experts say it would be a violation of House rules for a foreigner or for a lobbyist to pay any of DeLay's trip expenses.
Michel Waller, a Republican policy adviser who writes about Russia, claims he had warned Abramoff's firm and others, at the time, to stay away from NAFTASib.
“There was not much written on them in open sources,” explains Waller. “Even the CIA didn’t know much about them."
Waller says he did not know to warn DeLay directly and was upset when he learned of DeLay's trip.
“I was angry,” he says, “I thought this was a stupid thing to do. I told them they were getting him in a lot of trouble.”
NBC News visited NAFTAsib offices in Moscow Thursday morning, and no officials would talk.
Thursday, An Abramoff spokesman said the trip was paid for by the non-profit group. A DeLay spokesman says the House majority leader continues to believe that all expenses were properly paid by the center but does not know how the payments were handled.