Campbell Readies Subpoenas
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is set to issue subpoenas in its investigation into the tens of millions of dollars spent by tribes on a pair of high-profile GOP lobbying and public relations specialists earlier this decade.
Indian Affairs Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) said it would mark the first time the panel has ever issued subpoenas.
Faced with what he called “very little” cooperation from the targets of his probe, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) convinced Campbell to ratchet up the pressure by including the subpoenas on the agenda for the panel’s June 16 business meeting.
With both Campbell and McCain, the No. 2 ranking Republican on the panel, in support of issuing subpoenas it is virtually certain Indian Affairs will approve them, although it remains unclear how broad they will be and precisely who will receive them.
Campbell said Tuesday that he would limit his support of compelling documents and testimony only to “individuals.” That comment suggests Campbell wants to limit subpoenas to the two K Street figures at the center of the case and the firms they worked for: Jack Abramoff, once a high-flying lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig who was pushed out the door when the investigations into his work began, and Mike Scanlon, the public relations expert and former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) who collected at least $30 million from four tribes in three years.
“I am not supporting any movement to subpoena tribes,” Campbell said, adding that the tribes had a “sovereign” status that Congress shouldn’t impede upon. “That’ll be the first time in history we’ve issued subpoenas from the committee.”
McCain said he wants to work “in coordination” with Campbell, who gave McCain an almost free hand to conduct the probe of Abramoff, Scanlon and their work for the tribes. Campbell’s committee even hired a special investigator recently to work specifically with McCain’s staff on this investigation. But McCain left open the option of pushing to get more information from the tribes themselves.
“We’ll have to discuss it,” he said Tuesday. “We have to do whatever is necessary.”
McCain declined to specify who he wanted to subpoena, saying his staff was “still putting together the list.”
He began the probe after media reports documented how Abramoff, while at Greenberg Traurig, billed just four tribes for about $15 million over three years and Scanlon collected at least the $30 million in PR contracts from the same tribes, who hired Scanlon’s firm at Abramoff’s prompting. Additional questions have centered around a think tank founded by Scanlon that paid $1.6 million in lobbying fees through the end of 2003 to Abramoff that appeared to do little work in its field and then folded in mid-2002.
And The Washington Post reported earlier this year that McCain sent Abramoff a letter saying the lobbyist, who is now working as a consultant at Cassidy & Associates, had received $10 million in payments from Scanlon and his firms.
McCain is exploring what services the tribes actually received for what were some of the highest payments from any clients to a lobbyist from 2001 through 2003.
Scanlon has provided the committee with his documents related to his work with one tribe, the Saginaw Chippewas of Michigan. That tribe is under the control of a new tribal council that has blasted its previous leaders for spending so much on Abramoff and Scanlon, doling out $4.3 million to Abramoff and about $10 million to Scanlon.
In an interview before McCain and Campbell decided to push ahead with subpoenas, Scanlon said his pricing was “reasonable” when put in the context of the “sheer enormity of the industry,” noting that tribal gaming has become a multi-billion-dollar business.
“The work product that I provided to the committee will hopefully be helpful not only with regard to this specific tribe but also helpful to educating people about the industry overall,” he said. “This particular client made $1.8 billion in the three years I worked for them. I believe it’s necessary for tribes like this to actively participate in the public affairs arena to stay competitive.”
Lawyers for Abramoff did not return calls seeking comment, and Greenberg Traurig also declined to comment. The firm, however, is closing in on the completion of its own internal investigation of Abramoff’s business dealings and, in prior statements, has indicated that it may seek some form of retribution against Abramoff.
In the process of taking in so much money from the tribes, Scanlon also became one of the top donors to Republicans, cutting $500,000 worth of checks to the Republican Governors Association late in the 2002 election cycle.
Abramoff has also been a major donor to GOP candidates and is a “Pioneer” for President Bush’s re-election campaign, having raised at least $100,000 from other donors for Bush.
Supporters of Scanlon and Abramoff’s work note that the Chippewa are still pouring millions of dollars into public affairs projects after firing their Washington-based consultants. Early last month the tribe agreed to put up almost $3 million as part of a $14 million petition drive organized by a dozen gaming interests in Michigan to get an initiative on the November ballot to halt an expansion of gambling to allow slot machines into racetracks.
McCain’s investigators initially thought they would be receiving a huge amount of documentation from the tribes — including the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians — but internal disputes have left it unclear in some cases which wings of the tribes are running their governing councils.
Only the Chippewa have been clearly taken over by a council that opposes Abramoff, making their waiver of confidentiality from all attorney-client privileges valid.