Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wild About Harry

"Culture of corruption!" Nothing puts the crimp in a good partisan sound-bite like a healthy dose of hypocrisy. A lengthy Feb. 10 Associated Press piece details dealings between Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and convicted felon Jack Abramoff that look an awful lot (okay, exactly like) the quid pro quo stinking up the GOP:

- Reid sent official letters favorable to Abramoff clients and took pro-Abramoff positions on legislation at around the same time Abramoff directed those clients to make donations to Reid's political organization.

- Abramoff's firm hired a top Reid aide as a lobbyist. The aide later helped throw a fundraiser for Reid at Abramoff's firm that raised money from several of Abramoff's lobbying partners.

Also, there's this little item:

Although Abramoff never donated personally to Reid, the lobbyist did instruct one tribe, the Louisiana Coushattas, to send $5,000 to Reid's tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund, in 2002. Reid was Democratic whip at the time.

Abramoff sent a list to the tribe titled "Coushatta Requests" recommending donations to campaigns or groups for 50 lawmakers. Alongside Reid's name, Abramoff wrote, "5,000 (Searchlight Leadership Fund) Senate Majority Whip."

About the same time, Reid sent a letter to the Interior Department helpful to the tribe, records show. His March 5, 2002, letter pressed the agency to reject a casino proposed by a potential rival to the Coushattas, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) also signed the letter.

Reid also officially opposed new tribal casinos in California and Michigan, where Abramoff had tribal clients with casinos.

Reid and Ensign recently wrote the Senate Ethics Committee to say their letter had nothing to do with Abramoff or the donation and instead reflected their interest in protecting Las Vegas's gambling establishments.

"As senators for the state with the largest nontribal gaming industry in the nation, we have long opposed the growth of off-reservation tribal gaming throughout the United States," Ensign and Reid wrote. Reid authored the law legalizing casinos on reservations, and he has long argued it does not allow tribal gambling off reservations.

Abramoff's group had earlier contacts with Reid's office over the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and one of Abramoff's highest paying clients. In 2001, records show, Abramoff's lobbying partners billed for nearly two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid's office, mostly to discuss Democratic legislation that would have gradually applied the U.S. minimum wage to the islands. Republicans wanted to keep the islands exempt.
Reid, along with his Senate counsel, Jim Ryan, met with Abramoff deputy Ronald Platt on June 5, 2001, "to discuss timing on minimum wage bill," according to a bill that Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's firm, sent the Marianas. Three weeks before the meeting, Greenberg Traurig's political action committee donated $1,000 to Reid's Senate reelection committee. Three weeks after the meeting, Platt himself donated $1,000 to Reid.
Manley said Reid's official calendar does not list a meeting on June 5, 2001, with Platt, but he also said he could not say for sure the contact did not occur. Manley confirmed Platt had regular contacts with Reid's office, calling them part of the "routine checking in" by lobbyists who work Capitol Hill.

As for the timing of donations, Manley said, "There is no connection. This is just a typical part of lawful fundraising."

In other news, Reid also denied having sex with "that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

The minority leader, of course, has been among those howling loudest for President Bush to come clean on what congressional Democrats simply presume to be personal ties between the president and Abramoff. In a letter delivered to Bush before the State of the Union address, Reid joined noted centrists Charles Schumer and Debbie Stabenow in demanding to know

"....about Abramoff’s role in the “K Street Project,” the initiative launched by Republicans in the 1990’s to link lobbyists to Republican officials in Congress and the executive branch. What role did your Administration play in the K Street Project, and did White House officials have direct contact with Abramoff in this regard? In the upcoming State of the Union address, you will presumably call for reforms to address lobbying abuses.

"But such rhetoric will ring hollow until you reveal the ways in which Jack Abramoff himself may have improperly influenced your Administration over the past five years. As the leader of your party, you have the opportunity to set an example and call for openness and accountability from your fellow Republicans. The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale.
" (HT: Talkleft.com)

Makes us wonder whether Reid's internal hypocrisy meter was screeching like a Geiger Counter when he signed the letter.

Interesting that details on Reid/Abramoff ties -- rather than, say, more dirt on more Republicans...Bob Ney, for example -- are emerging as Abramoff's cooperation with federal prosecutors hits full stride. If one were inclined to believe in karma (we aren't, but let's just say....), one might call the Reid development a kind of cosmic comeuppance: In 1996-97, Democrats spun Chinagate, a completely Democratic influence-peddling scandal, into a bipartisan referendum on campaign finance reform. (They couldn't very well twist it into a bipartisan scandal given the inconvenient fact that only Democrats, and no Republicans, had sold favors and influence to Communist Chinese agents.) Now it appears what Democrats spun as a completely Republican influence-peddling scandal may net Democrats, too -- from the top down.

- VINCENT