New evidence is emerging that the top Democrat on the Senate panel investigating Jack Abramoff got political money arranged by the lobbyist back in 2002, shortly after the lawmaker took action favorable to Mr. Abramoff’s tribal clients.
A lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians said Mr. Abramoff told the tribe to send $5,000 to Sen. Byron L. Dorgan’s political group three weeks after the North Dakota Democrat urged fellow senators to fund a school program Mr. Abramoff’s clients wanted to use.
The check was one of about 60 the Coushattas listed in a ledger as being issued in March 2002 to various lawmakers’ political causes at the instruction of Mr. Abramoff, tribal attorney Jimmy Faircloth said Monday.
Many of the recipients were lawmakers who had just written letters to the Bush administration or Congress supportive of Mr. Abramoff’s tribal causes, documents show.
The revelation came as Mr. Dorgan took to the offensive, saying there was no connection between the $20,000 in donations he got from Mr. Abramoff’s firm and tribal clients in spring 2002 and a February 2002 letter he wrote urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund the tribal school-building program.
Mr. Dorgan’s letter noted that the Mississippi Choctaw, an Abramoff client, had successfully used the program and asked lawmakers to consider long-term funding for it. It made no mention of Mr. Abramoff or any of his other tribes that were interested in the program.
Mr. Dorgan sharply criticized a recent Associated Press story that divulged he and a dozen other lawmakers had received Abramoff-related donations near the time they sent letters supporting the school program.
Mr. Dorgan said he had never met Mr. Abramoff, didn’t know about the donations from the lobbyist’s clients near the time of his letter and saw no reason to quit the Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation of Mr. Abramoff.
“I don’t have any idea what was contributed to me, or by whom. No contribution has been made to me that was ever represented as a contribution coming from Mr. Abramoff, or [what] he was involved in,” Mr. Dorgan said when asked about the $20,000 in donations.
A staff member said Mr. Dorgan believes the letter was drafted by Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, who also signed it and got similar donations from Mr. Abramoff’s clients.
For instance, the Coushattas’ check ledger shows the tribe on March 6, 2002, wrote checks for $5,000 to Mr. Dorgan’s political group, called the Great Plains Leadership Fund, and $25,000 to Mr. Burns. That money ultimately went to Mr. Burns’ Friends of the Big Sky political group.
Other checks listed as being issued that day were written to groups tied to Sens. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat; Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat; and John Breaux, Louisiana Democrat; and Reps. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican; Charles H. Taylor, North Carolina Republican; and Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, all of whom wrote letters favorable to Abramoff tribal client causes, the ledger shows.
Mr. Dorgan’s spokesman, Barry E. Piatt, said he believed his boss had pursued the congressional investigation of Mr. Abramoff aggressively.
Asked why the probe hasn’t focused more on donations to lawmakers who wrote letters for Mr. Abramoff’s clients, Mr. Piatt said, “They’re investigating what appears to be massive fraud, and there’s lots of ground to cover and it is still early.”