ABRAMOFF LOWELL
Dennis Cook  /  AP file
Jack Abramoff, right, listens to his attorney Abbe Lowell on Capitol Hill in this Sept. 29, 2004, photo.
updated 11/3/2005 4:14:56 PM ET 2005-11-03T21:14:56

Investigators have unearthed e-mails showing Rep. Tom DeLay’s office tried to help lobbyist Jack Abramoff get a high-level Bush administration meeting for Indian clients, an effort that succeeded after the tribes began making $250,000 in donations.

Tribal money went both to a group founded by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the Cabinet secretary Abramoff was trying to meet, as well as to DeLay’s personal charity.

“Do you think you could call that friend and set up a meeting?” then-DeLay staffer Tony Rudy asked fellow House aide Thomas Pyle in a Dec. 29, 2000, e-mail titled “Gale Norton-Interior Secretary.” President Bush had nominated Norton to the post the day before.

Rudy wrote Abramoff that same day promising he had “good news” about securing a meeting with Norton, forwarding information about the environmental group Norton had founded, according to e-mails obtained by investigators and reviewed by The Associated Press. Rudy’s message to Abramoff was sent from Congress’ official e-mail system.

Tribe sends $10,000 to DeLay foundation
Within months, Abramoff clients donated heavily to the Norton-founded group and to DeLay’s personal charity. The Coushatta Indian tribe, for instance, wrote checks in March 2001 for $50,000 to the Norton group and $10,000 to the DeLay Foundation, tribal records show.

The lobbyist and the Coushattas eventually won face-to-face time with the secretary during a Sept. 24, 2001, dinner sponsored by the group she had founded.

Abramoff’s clients were trying to stop a rival Indian tribe from winning Interior Department approval to build a casino.

Federal and congressional investigators have obtained the DeLay staff e-mails from Abramoff’s former lobbying firm as they try to determine whether officials in Congress or the Bush administration provided government assistance in exchange for the money Abramoff’s clients donated to Republican causes.

Skybox, Scotland trip
The assistance to Abramoff from DeLay’s staff occurred just a few months after DeLay received political donations, free use of a Washington arena skybox to reward donors and an all-expense-paid trip to play golf in Scotland arranged by Abramoff and mostly underwritten by his clients.

DeLay’s lawyer said this week his client probably didn’t know about the assistance his aides gave Abramoff five years ago and does not believe his office would ever provide government assistance in exchange for political donations.

“On its face it’s not unusual for staffers to assist people trying to get a meeting with an executive branch agency and that would be something a member of Congress would not typically be involved with. That’s staff work,” attorney Richard Cullen said in an interview.

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“Tom DeLay conducts himself consistent with the highest standards of conduct and he mandated the same for his staff,” Cullen said.

Ethics expert: E-mails suggest conflict of interest
Shortly after the e-mail exchanges, the two DeLay aides, Rudy and Pyle, left DeLay’s office for private sector jobs. Rudy went to work for Abramoff while Pyle went to work for the Koch pipeline company. Neither returned calls to their offices this week seeking comment.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at the Washington University law school in St. Louis, said the e-mails suggest a conflict of interest and leave the public wondering whether DeLay staffers tried to help tribes outside his home state because of Abramoff’s gifts to their boss.

“It certainly suggests a kind of corruption, not the kind of corruption that can be prosecuted under the bribery law but the kind that shows a manipulation of system,” Clark said.

“We can’t look inside DeLay’s or his staffers’ minds. But we can detect what happened on the outside, and assert that a reasonable person may feel gratitude and do a favor because of that gratitude,” she said.

Republican judge out
Two days after DeLay won a fight to get a new judge in his case, prosecutors Thursday succeeded in ousting the Republican responsible for selecting the new judge.

Administrative Judge B.B. Schraub withdrew after District Attorney Ronnie Earle filed a request to have him removed.

Schraub said he will ask the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court — a Republican — to name a judge to preside over DeLay’s conspiracy and money laundering trial.

DeLay is charged with illegally funneling corporate campaign contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature. The Texas Republican was forced to step down as House majority leader after being indicted.

On Tuesday, District Judge Bob Perkins, a Democrat, was removed from DeLay’s case at the congressman’s request because of his contributions to Democrats.

The district attorney argued that Schraub was objectionable, too, because he has made several contributions to GOP candidates, including Gov. Rick Perry, a DeLay ally. Earle said the contributions called into question Schraub’s ability to be impartial.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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