- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006


Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote at least four letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, and the senator’s staff regularly had contact with the disgraced lobbyist’s team about legislation affecting other clients.

The activities, detailed in billing records and correspondence obtained by the Associated Press, are far more extensive than previously disclosed. They occurred over three years as Mr. Reid collected nearly $68,000 in donations from Abramoff’s firm, lobbying partners and clients.

Mr. Reid’s office yesterday acknowledged having “routine contacts” with Abramoff’s lobbying partners and intervening on some government matters — such as blocking some tribal casinos — in ways Abramoff’s clients might have deemed helpful. But it said none of his actions was affected by donations or done for Abramoff.

“All the actions that Senator Reid took were consistent with his long-held beliefs, such as not letting tribal casinos expand beyond reservations, and were taken to defend the interests of Nevada constituents,” spokesman Jim Manley said.

Mr. Reid has led the Democratic Party’s attacks portraying Abramoff’s lobbying and fundraising as a Republican scandal.

But Abramoff’s records show his lobbying partners billed for nearly two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Mr. Reid’s office in 2001 alone.

Most were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.

Mr. Reid also intervened on government matters at least five times in ways helpful to Abramoff’s tribal clients, once opposing legislation on the Senate floor and four times sending letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues. Mr. Reid collected donations around the time of each action.

Ethics rules require senators to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in collecting contributions around the times they take official acts benefiting donors.

Abramoff’s firm also hired one of Mr. Reid’s top legislative aides as a lobbyist. The aide later helped throw a fundraiser for Mr. Reid at Abramoff’s firm that raised donations from several of his lobbying partners.

Mr. Reid’s longtime chief of staff accepted a free trip to Malaysia arranged by a consulting firm connected to Abramoff that has gained attention in the influence-peddling investigation that has gripped the Capitol.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty in a fraud and bribery case and now is helping prosecutors investigate the conduct of lawmakers, congressional aides and administration officials his team used to lobby.

Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum declined to comment on the Reid contacts.

Mr. Reid has assailed Republicans’ ties to Abramoff while refusing to return any of his own donations. He argues that there is no need to return the money.

“Senator Reid never met Jack Abramoff and never has taken contributions from him, and efforts to drag him into this are going to fail,” Mr. Manley said. “Abramoff is a convicted felon and no one has suggested the other partners we might have dealt with have done anything impermissible.”

Although Abramoff never directly donated to Mr. Reid, the lobbyist did instruct one tribe, the Coushattas, to send $5,000 to Mr. Reid’s tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund, in 2002. About the same time, Mr. Reid sent a letter to the Interior Department helpful to the tribe, records show.

Abramoff sent a list to the tribe titled “Coushatta Requests,” recommending donations to campaigns or groups for 50 lawmakers he said were helpful to the tribe. Alongside Mr. Reid’s name, Abramoff wrote, “5,000 (Searchlight Leadership Fund) Senate Majority Whip.”

Following a pattern seen with Abramoff and Republicans, Abramoff’s Democratic team members often delivered donations to Mr. Reid close to key events.

As for the timing of donations, Mr. Manley said, “There is no connection. This is just a typical part of lawful fundraising.”

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