- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

Republican strategists say Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is guilty of rank hypocrisy for accusing the party of wrongdoing in the influence-peddling scandal because new disclosures show that he, too, helped Indian tribes represented by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Democratic officials say Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, has done nothing wrong by accepting campaign contributions from Indian tribes soon after he helped them, but campaign-finance and ethics lawyers believe the disclosures raise troubling questions about “the appearance of it.”

“It obviously puts Reid in a very awkward position. I think Senator Reid has to be willing to answer the same questions that everyone else has been asking of the Republicans,” said Lawrence Noble, executive director and general counsel at the Center for Responsive Politics, which has kept track of the dozens of lawmakers who received campaign contributions from Abramoff, his partners and his wealthy, casino-owning Indian clients.

For the past month, Mr. Reid has been leading a political offensive against the Republicans, charging them with presiding over “a culture of corruption,” while at the same time insisting that no Democrat has received money in return for legislative favors in a widening scandal being investigated by the Justice Department.

But new details reported last week by the Associated Press reveal that Mr. Reid’s repeated denials of any connection with Abramoff or his firm were not entirely accurate. The AP report said Mr. Reid wrote at least four letters to assist Indian tribes that hired Abramoff as their lobbyist on Capitol Hill, that the senator’s staff had numerous contacts with the lobbying firm, and that Mr. Reid accepted nearly $68,000 in donations from Abramoff’s company, his associates and his Indian clients.

During a campaign trip through Western states last month, accusing Republicans of building “a culture of corruption,” Mr. Reid said that only Republicans were implicated in the scandal and that “any money I received had no fingerprints of Jack Abramoff on it.”

But with the latest AP disclosures, which made headlines across the country, Republicans were back on the offense last week, accusing Mr. Reid and his party of the same corruption charges Democrats have been lobbing at them for months.

“His definition of corruption is having done things for Abramoff’s clients and receiving money from them, but he’s also been a recipient of contributions from Abramoff’s clients after having done things to help them,” said Cleta Mitchell, a campaign-finance and ethics lawyer who has advised Republicans.

Other Republicans said that Mr. Reid’s problem is that he has been caught in a web of his own denials.

“The problem is that he has not been straightforward about all his dealings with Abramoff’s firm,” said Jan Baran, another campaign-finance law and ethics lawyer.

Mr. Reid’s chief spokesman, Jim Manley, denied that the Senate leader had done anything even remotely illegal or unethical.

“The Republicans want nothing more than to smear Harry Reid with the Abramoff scandal, and their attempt to divert attention from it is not going to work. This is a Republican scandal,” he said.

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