What tangled webs we weave.
A Congressional committee investigating whether Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes has subpoenaed records from Mr. Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, after he refused for six months to turn them over voluntarily.
The Justice Department is reviewing records of an advocacy group Mr. Norquist started with Gale A. Norton, now secretary of the interior, after reports that Mr. Abramoff instructed Indian tribes to give it $250,000. And Mr. Norquist’s name appears over and over in newly disclosed documents outlining Mr. Abramoff’s work in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American protectorate in the Pacific, which Democrats are agitating to investigate.
As Mr. Abramoff’s problems touched Mr. DeLay – the majority leader may face an ethics inquiry over trips arranged by Mr. Abramoff – Mr. Norquist was their most vocal defender. But in recent weeks he has distanced himself from the two men whose success has been so intertwined with his own.
At a gala dinner this month to support Mr. DeLay, Mr. Norquist declined a seat on the dais, despite being listed as a host. He slipped out after a predinner reception, he said later, for a dinner party at his home.
Mr. Abramoff attended his wedding on April 2, yet Mr. Norquist described him as simply a “friend,” someone he has lunch or dinner with a few times a year. “I knew him when we were in college,” he said. “But there’s no business or financial relationship.”
“Abramoff would have had no value without Norquist,” said J. Michael Waller, a scholar at the Institute of World Politics who followed the two men at College Republicans. “Norquist was the pivot, he had the speaker of the House as his friend, all the new leadership, all the visionaries for more than a decade.”
In what became known as the K Street Project, the two men pressed lobbying firms to do more business with Republicans, helping to enrich Mr. Abramoff, strengthen Mr. Norquist’s influence and fortify Mr. DeLay’s power.
Mr. Norquist and Mr. Abramoff worked together to help Mr. Abramoff’s first big client, the Northern Mariana Islands. The garment industry there relies on cheap labor from China, and the local government was trying to avoid imposition of American minimum wage and immigration laws. Mr. Norquist promoted the Marianas in his meetings and speeches as a model of free enterprise, while Mr. Abramoff collected nearly $9 million in lobbying fees and sent members of Congress on fact-finding and golf trips to the islands.
Mr. Abramoff also billed the islands for thousands of dollars for “discussions” with Mr. Norquist and to send a staff member to the Wednesday meetings, as well as for airfare to the Marianas for staff members of Americans for Tax Reform.
Indian tribes say Mr. Abramoff dropped Mr. Norquist’s name when he began trying to win their business. Mr. Norquist used his platform to argue against taxing Indian gambling. Mr. Abramoff billed the tribes tens of millions of dollars to try to fend off antigambling groups and regulators and to send members of Congress on lavish overseas trips. The tribes say Mr. Abramoff also instructed them to give money to Mr. Norquist’s groups as way of getting an audience with the Bush administration. The tribes gave $1.5 million to Americans for Tax Reform and $250,000 to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, the group founded by Mr. Norquist and Ms. Norton.