A lobbyist who billed American Indian tribes tens of millions of dollars for work on casino issues refused Wednesday to answer questions from the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Committee Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., quoted from e-mails in which Jack Abramoff called his tribal clients “morons,” “monkeys” and “stupid idiots.” Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, said he was personally offended and asked Abramoff why he worked with tribes if he felt that way.
Abramoff refused to answer that and 15 other questions from the committee, asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself. A federal grand jury in Washington also is investigating his activities.
The Senate committee’s staff concluded after a seven-month investigation that found Abramoff and his business partner, Michael Scanlon, had charged six tribes in six states a total of $66 million for lobbying and may have manipulated at least two tribal elections to ensure they would get contracts with tribes.
E-mails and other evidence at Wednesday’s hearing showed Abramoff steering business to Scanlon’s public relations firm without revealing that Scanlon paid him a portion of the proceeds.
Scanlon didn’t testify Wednesday because U.S. marshals were unable to serve him with a subpoena, Campbell said.
Bernie Sprague, the sub-chief of Michigan’s Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, told the committee that Abramoff never revealed he had a financial arrangement with Scanlon, even when he was asked specifically by the tribe’s council in November 2003.
$75,000 database for $4.5 million
Sprague said the tribe paid $10 million to Scanlon and $4 million to Abramoff over a three-year period but got little in return. One $4.5 million payment was for a database of Michigan voters, he said. The tribe later learned it could have purchased the same database for $75,000, he added.
Sprague said the tribe was told Abramoff was powerful because he had close ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. DeLay has denied that he worked closely with Abramoff.
“I have no idea how their operation is or what it is. What I can tell you is that if anybody is trading on my name to get clients or to make money, that is wrong and they should stop it immediately,” DeLay said in a statement released by his office Wednesday.
The Senate committee plans additional hearings on Abramoff’s and Scanlon’s connections to the Louisiana Coushattas, the Mississippi Choctaws, the Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico, the Tigua tribe of Texas and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in California.
“This committee’s investigation is far from over,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.