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New details on Abramoff connections

Three prominent Republicans' names  have surfaced in a potentially damaging report on disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling scheme designed to rip-off his Tribal clients .
(Left to right, front row) Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Rep. Bob Ney, R-OH, (back row, left to right) unidentified Scottish aide and David H. Safavian on a golf trip to St. Andrews in Scotland.
(Left to right, front row) Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Rep. Bob Ney, R-OH, (back row, left to right) unidentified Scottish aide and David H. Safavian on a golf trip to St. Andrews in Scotland.Department Of Justice
/ Source: NBC News

Three prominent Republican names have surfaced from the 357-page Senate Indian Affairs Committee's report, titled "Gimme Five," released this week. The potentially damaging report offers a rich and complex chronology of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling scheme designed to rip-off his Tribal clients and reap huge profits.

The three are Representative Bob Ney - running for re-election in Ohio, and under investigation by the Justice Department; Ralph Reed - currently running for Lt. Governor of Georgia; and Grover Norquist - a prominent anti-tax activist.

Ralph Reed
Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition and a leading Republican Party strategist, is a central figure, according to the Senate report, in the Abramoff scheme. Reed received more than $4 million in payments on behalf of Indian tribe casinos - clients of Abramoff.

Beginning in the late 1990's, according to the report, Reed used the might of his many contacts within conservative Christian groups in the South and Southwest to block new casinos from opening or expanding. In 1998, Reed reached out to Abramoff in an e-mail, writing, "Hey, now that I'm done with electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts." Abramoff saw an opportunity and suggested a grassroots effort, recommending the Choctaw a tribe in Louisiana hire Reed to orchestrate an anti-gaming effort.

The Tribe agreed to hire Reed to mobilize grassroots. The plan: stop any new competition to the ongoing gambling operations of Abramoff's Tribal clients. Reed claimed no one had better relationships than his with the grassroots conservatives. And Reed boasted to Abramoff that his organization, Century Strategies, had on file "over 3,000 pastors and 90,000 religious conservative households in Alabama" alone that can be accessed in this effort.

Reed, in a statement this week, said he had only agreed to organize the anti-gambling campaigns for Abramoff after receiving assurances "that I would not be paid with funds derived from gambling."  But, in the statement, he goes on to say now he might have done it differently.  "While I believed at the time that those assurances were sufficient,” he wrote, “It is now clear with the benefit of hindsight that this is a piece of business I should have declined. I have and always will be opposed to gambling expansion."

In many instances, Abramoff or his clients used conduits to conceal its grassroots activities from the "world-activities" often conducted by Reed.  It was also important to hide Reed's identity. The report quotes a tribal leader from a Louisiana tribe - the Choctaw – as saying he was told to keep quiet about Reed because "It can't get out. He's Christian Coalition. It wouldn't look good if they're receiving money from a casino-operating tribe to oppose gaming. It would be kind of like hypocritical."

The flow of tribal money to Reed was also hidden. First the money to Reed was channeled through Abramoff's lobby firm at the time, Preston-Gates. Abramoff informed Reed that he "spoke with our managing partner [at Preston Gates] and he has approved the subcontractor arrangement" and instructed Reed to "get me invoices as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks ASAP."

Grover Norquist
The conduit relationship to pay Reed then changed over to Grover Norquist. Norquist, another long-time friend of Abramoff's used his group, Americans for Tax Reform, to pay Reed. When Abramoff suggested the Choctaw start using ATR as a conduit, the Tribe agreed. According to the report, Norquist demanded that he receive a large management fee for letting ATR be used as a conduit.

Norquist and his ATR organization, according to its website, "opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle" and serves as "a national clearinghouse for the grassroots taxpayers. According to one document in the Committee's possession, Abramoff described ATR as "an effective conduit of support for other groups which have provided assistance to Indian gaming's efforts to fight the tax proposal." There were a number of anti-tax grassroots groups in various states, and "it was ATR's job to make contacts with those groups, to assist them in making contacts with members of the Ways and Means Committee or other committee members."

But, according to the report, Norquist apparently began getting nervous about his role as a pass-through. Part of Norquist's discomfort, the reports states, was derived from press accounts reporting that ATR was one of the largest contributors to an organization that was fighting against the expansion of gaming.

Bob Ney
Ohio Representative Bob Ney is mentioned extensively in the committee's final report as having attempted to assist Abramoff in placing language in legislation that could have helped one of Abramoff's Tribal clients. Ney, who was interviewed by committee investigators in 2004, denied trying to insert a provision into election reform legislation in 2002 to help Abramoff's client, the Tigua, an Indian tribe in south Texas.

Ney even told the committee then that "he was not familiar with the Tigua." But the report quotes tribal representatives as testifying that they did, in fact, meet with Ney for more than two hours in August 2002 and he assured them he could help with legislation.  Ney testified he "could not recall ever meeting with any member of the Tigua", telling the committee he, "wouldn't even meet with the President for two hours." But, Ney's lawyer later told the committee that the congressman's schedule for that day showed a half-hour meeting with the "Taqua." A spokesman for Ney, Brian Walsh, said the congressman simply could not recall that the tribe was also known by another name - the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Indian Tribe of El Paso, Texas.

Ney's comments to the committee could complicate to his problems with the Justice Department. Abramoff and three former associates have pleaded guilty to implicating Ney in a string of official acts allegedly performed in exchange for favors.  Those favor included a golf junket to Scotland in August 2002, and campaign contributions. The Tigua gave Ney more than $30,000 in political donations.

The meeting that representatives of the Tigua had with Ney in August 2002, came just one week after the Scotland trip. It was the Tigua that Abramoff asked to pay for a golf trip. But Ney told the committee he never knew the tribe financed the trip. He said he thought the costs were covered by a private foundation.

The report said: "Congressman Ney said the purpose of the trip was to raise money for underprivileged kids in Scotland and Washington, D.C. The itinerary consisted of golfing, meeting two parliamentarians, and watching the Marine Band."

The meetings with Scottish parliamentarians never took place. And according to testimony by Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, the trip amounted to $100 rounds of drinks, $400 rounds of golf and expensive hotel rooms.

Volz, Reed, Ney, Abramoff and David Safavian - who was convicted of 4 counts of lying and obstruction - were all part of the golf party to Scotland and London in 2002.

Walsh, Ney's spokesman said the Senate report merely shows just how far Abramoff and his conspirators, who "have pleaded guilty to deceiving their clients, employers and members of Congress, would go to further their own greed."

In all, so far, five people have pleaded guilty or been convicted of influence peddling - Volz, Abramoff, and two former aides to Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay; Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon.  Safavian has been the only person caught up in the Abramoff scandal to be convicted at trial.  The Justice Department's investigation is continuing.

Joel Seidman is an NBC Producer based in Washington, DC