Senate: Abramoff paid Ralph Reed millions

June 23, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan Senate report released yesterday documented more than $5.3 million in payments to Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition and a leading Republican Party strategist, from an influence-peddling operation run by the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff on behalf of Indian tribe casinos.

The report by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee portrayed Reed, a candidate for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in his home state, Georgia, as a central figure in Abramoff's lobbying operation, which is the focus of a wide-ranging criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

Reed was depicted as using his contacts among conservative Christian groups in the South and Southwest beginning in the late 1990s to block the opening or expansion of casinos that might compete with the gambling operations of Abramoff's clients.

Abramoff and his former partner, Michael Scanlon, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt public officials and bilking some Indian tribe clients out of tens of millions of dollars. They are cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation that is threatening to derail the careers of several members of Congress.

There has been no suggestion by prosecutors that Reed is under special scrutiny by the grand jury.

Reed's name was invoked repeatedly at the trial this month of David H. Safavian, a former White House aide who was convicted of lying to investigators about the circumstances of a 2002 golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff, Reed and Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican. The evidence at the trial included photographs of Reed standing in front of the private jet that carried the men to Scotland.

In a statement issued through his campaign office, Reed attempted to portray the Senate report as a vindication.

While "it is now clear with the benefit of hindsight that this is a piece of business I should have declined," he said, the report "confirms that I have not been accused of any wrongdoing."

The Senate report, the result of a two-year investigation by the Indian Affairs Committee, said of Abramoff and Scanlon that "the depth and breadth of their misconduct was astonishing."

While not alleging that Reed had knowledge of their crimes, the new report offers a rich - and for Reed, potentially politically damaging - chronology of his close friendship with Abramoff and of the millions of dollars that Abramoff directed to Reed from Indian tribe clients who were seeking to protect their casinos from competition.

The report also raises new questions about the actions of Ney, who has acknowledged that he was subpoenaed for information by the grand jury in Washington.

The Senate committee suggested there was extensive evidence to dispute statements made by Ney to its investigators that he had done no special favors for a small Indian tribe in West Texas that paid millions of dollars to Abramoff in a fruitless effort to reopen a closed casino. The tribe, the Tiguas of El Paso, was asked by Abramoff to underwrite Ney's golf trip to Scotland.

A spokesman for Ney, Brian J. Walsh, said that the lawmaker had told the truth to the Senate investigators as he recalled it and that "all this report shows is the lengths to which Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and others who have pleaded guilty" would go "to further their own greed."

In his statement yesterday, Reed said he had agreed to organize the anti-gambling campaigns for Abramoff after being assured "that I would not be paid with funds derived from gambling."

In many cases, the Senate report found, payments to Reed were handled through third parties in what appeared to be an effort to disguise the fact that the money was coming from the casino operations of Indian tribes.

The report quoted one Indian tribe leader from Louisiana as saying he was told to keep quiet about payments to Reed because "he's Christian Coalition - it wouldn't look good if they're receiving money from a casino-operating tribe to oppose gambling."

The report says that Abramoff and Scanlon turned to Reed in their efforts to defend Indian tribes threatened by competition; Reed then organized lobbying campaigns to block the opening of new gambling operations in those states, using his extensive network of contacts among conservative and religious groups in the South and Southwest.

"The vendor that Abramoff and Scanlon used, and relied on, the most to implement those campaigns was former Christian Coalition executive director and political strategist Ralph Reed," the Senate report concluded. "Reed conducted a variety of grass-roots activities in support of the interests of Abramoff gaming clients."

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