An Abramoffer You Can’t Refuse

From Holden:

Man, it’s hard to keep track of all this Republican corruption, but it sounds like yesterday’s Indian Affairs Committee hearing was a doozy.

Former legal counselor Michael G. Rossetti, seated beside [Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton’s former legal counselor Stephen] Griles before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said he repeatedly rebuffed Griles’s efforts and, at one point, confronted him in front of other officials. He accused Griles of attempting to do Abramoff’s bidding on an issue affecting the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana, an Abramoff gambling client.

“I wanted Mr. Griles to know I had my eye on him because I was worried about it — whether founded or not, I was worried about it,” Rossetti said. He said he demanded to know from Griles “whose water was he carrying,” Rossetti testified.

Griles, flushed and agitated, denied aiding Abramoff. “I don’t recall intervening on behalf of Mr. Abramoff, ever,” he said. “There was no special relationship with Abramoff in my office.”


One witness — Italia Federici, depicted in e-mails as a go-between from Abramoff to Griles — refused to appear, citing prior family considerations. U.S. marshals have been looking for her since last week to serve her a subpoena, and McCain said he would require her to come before the committee on her own.


Much of yesterday’s hearing centered on Griles’s dealings with Federici, who introduced Griles and Abramoff to each other around the time of President Bush’s election. Federici, a former Norton campaign aide in the secretary’s native Colorado, is president of a conservative environmental group Norton founded with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.

Abramoff had his tribal clients send at least $250,000 to the group — Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy — between 2001 and 2003.

“The question is why,” McCain said. He said e-mails show that Abramoff and his team “believed that Ms. Federici had ‘juice’ at the Department of Interior and deemed her ‘critical’ to his tribal lobbying practice.” In numerous e-mails, Federici told Abramoff she had or would raise the lobbyists’ concerns with Griles.


Griles said the only time he remembered Abramoff being in his office was for a “photo op” with the former chief of the Coushatta tribe on Feb. 5, 2002. That meeting occurred as Abramoff and the Coushattas were in the midst of a furious effort to prevent another Louisiana tribe, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, from winning concessions at the Interior Department that would pave the way for them to open a casino.

Rossetti said Griles repeatedly sought to intervene in the department’s two-year consideration of the Jena matter. “He had a very keen interest,” Rossetti testified, and made “constant requests to be involved in meetings.” Rossetti said he tried to block the efforts because he did not want Norton to be vulnerable to criticism that the normal decision-making process had not been followed.

Griles denied he had ever sought to weigh in on tribal issues during his tenure at the department, which lasted from 2001 until last year.

But Rossetti said that in late 2003, with Norton about to make a decision on the Jena, Griles presented him with a binder full of legal arguments and congressional letters arguing against the Jena bid. Rossetti demanded to know where it had come from, and after much discussion, he testified, Griles acknowledged it had come to him “by way of Mr. Abramoff.”

“Mr. Rossetti has a different memory than I have on that issue,” Griles said. He said he showed the binder to Rossetti and asked him to share it with Norton, recalling that he asked, “Please make sure she knows all sides of this issue.”