Taylor implicated in Abramoff influence-peddling schemes

Emails obtained by the Associated Press implicate North Carolina Congressman Charles Taylor (R-11) in a complex scheme with several other congressmen and senators to benefit one of convicted felon Jack Abramoff’s clients, Michigan’s Chippewa Saginaw tribe.

According to FEC reports filed by the Taylor campaign, Taylor had received $27,750 from Indian Tribes and Abramoff and his associates.

The emails delineate a conspiracy to pressure congressmen and staff in the Interior Department’s funding process. Appropriations for the Interior Department (including the Bureau of Indian Affairs) in 2003 fell under the appropriations subcommittee Taylor chaired.

Emails that have become important evidence in the Abramoff corruption probe state the lobbyist's team bluntly discussed with a Republican Party official using large political donations as a way to pressure lawmakers and the administration into securing federal money for the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan.

Abramoff's team ultimately prevailed in securing federal school building money for the Saginaw, overcoming opposition from a single Republican congressional aide and a federal agency along the way. And the lawmakers who helped get thousands of dollars in fresh donations.

Federal bribery law prohibits public officials from taking actions because of gifts or political donations and bars lobbyists from demanding government action in exchange for donations.

Abramoff's team repeatedly discussed donations as the reason Republican leaders should intervene for the Saginaw, the e-mails show.

In another case, Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding Indian tribe clients, to corrupting public officials, and to conspiracy charges in connection to a federal bribery investigation. The Hendersonville Times-News referred to the latter as

. . . wining and dining public officials “in exchange for a series of official acts.”

Taylor met with Abramoff’s associates on April 9, 2003, and held a fundraiser at Abramoff’s restaurant, Signatures, on April 11, 2003. A month later, Taylor co-wrote a letter pressuring for Abramoff’s clients to receive a $3 million grant for which Interior Department officials had previously determined they were ineligible.

Taylor received $10,000 from Abramoff associates and clients in April and May, 2003. As well, the fundraiser netted $30,000, according to Taylor.

The letter Taylor co-wrote with Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) in April, 2003, specifically addressed the $3 million grant. That grant was the issue for which the Saginaw tribe hired Abramoff’s firm and for which Abramoff’s extended team of lobbyists, Senators, and congressmen campaigned and pressured other congressmen and staff. (Burns chairs the Senate’s subcommittee that oversees Interior Department appropriations.)

”It is our belief that the Saginaw Chippewa tribal school in question clearly falls within” the school construction program, Burns and Taylor wrote, sharply criticizing the [B]ureau [of Indian Affairs]. “We hope our collective response has cleared up any unnecessary confusion.

The blunt letter has caught federal investigator’s interest because it referenced correspondence that had been drafted inside Interior but never delivered. Federal agents are investigating whether an Interior official leaked the draft to Abramoff’s team so it could be used by the lawmakers to pressure the department.

In 2002, the same pattern emerged. Taylor received donations from an Abramoff-related tribe two weeks before signing a March 18, 2002 letter requesting the same funding for the Saginaw.

Not only do federal laws prohibit bribery or accepting bribes, Congressional ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest while performing official duties.

Taylor says that the April 9, 2003 meeting was not to raise money or discuss tribal issues. However, he also says that he cannot recall what was discussed at the meeting.

Taylor has repeatedly denied any affiliation with Abramoff. In January, Taylor told the Hendersonville Times-News:

"I didn't ever have any real contact with him [Abramoff].'

Since the emails have become public, Taylor has changed his answer slightly. In several April 2006 interviews Taylor said may have met Abramoff but doesn’t remember. Taylor says he has never asked his staff if they have had any interactions with Abramoff.

On an April 13th WWNC radio program, according to BlueNC blogger Screwy Hoolie, Taylor denied the April, 2003 Abramoff fundraiser ever happened. And according to TPMMuckraker.comTaylor never reported the use of Abramoff’s restaurant as a campaign expense, nor reimbursed the restaurant or Abramoff’s firm, Greenberg Traurig, for its use.

Taylor has repeatedly denied any connection between the Abramoff donations and his efforts to overturn the decision by the Department of the Interior in favor of Abramoff’s clients, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe.

In January, several Congressional recipients of Abramoff’s “donations” returned them or gave equal amounts to charity. The Saginaw Chippewas returned their $3 million grant, stating:

The tribe asked that the funds be redirected to programs targeted for cuts by the Interior Department.

Taylor told the Hendersonville Times-News:

. . . the $2,750 that he and his wife contributed over a period of six years has been spent, so I won't be giving it back.”

The Asheville Citizen-Times, which has routinely endorsed Taylor each of the seven times he has run for Congress, joins the long list of media and officials calling for explanations:

E-mails that detail how Abramoff’s team worked to leverage assistance from the White House, the Republican Party and congressmen, including Taylor, raise serious questions about whether Taylor traded influence over legislation important to Abramoff’s clients for campaign donations.

Many of the e-mails refer to an Interior Department GOP House appropriations staffer, Joel Kaplan, who had initially ruled the tribe ineligible for funding because of their comparative wealth from casino profits.

A staffer for the National Republican Congressional Committee, Jonathan Poe, suggested Abramoff's team compile a list of tribal donations, comparing Republicans with Democrats, to help make the case for lawmakers to overrule Kaplan, the e-mails state.

Poe's "suggestion for me was to have a list of money contributed by tribes broken down r to d so that I can make the cleanest argument that we are about to let the Senate Democrats take credit for the biggest ask of the year by the most Republican-leaning tribes," Abramoff lobbying associate Neil Volz wrote.

Abramoff's team obliged, creating a tally that showed his tribal clients overwhelmingly donated to Republicans -- $225,000 compared with $79,000 for Democrats.

The Associated Press further delineated the scheme:

Tony Rudy, an Abramoff colleague who was a former top aide to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, reached out to his old boss' office. Rudy recently pleaded guilty in the corruption probe and is assisting prosecutors.

"I just came out of a meeting with DeLay's folks. Joel ain't budging," Rudy wrote, referring to Kaplan.

"The bottom line is that a staffer received several letters from appropriators, Native American Caucus co-chairs and others supporting a project that costs the federal government ZERO dollars and he is refusing to put it in the bill because it's 'his account,'" [Abramoff associate Todd] Boulanger wrote.

. . .

Abramoff was copied on each of the e-mail exchanges, at one point affirming the strategy. "This is brilliant," Abramoff wrote.

Abramoff's team persisted, calling the White House intergovernmental affairs office that often deals with Congress.

"Just talked to White House intergovernmental. I'm pretty sure they will weigh in. Just trying to figure out if they should call Joel or some other player in this drama," Abramoff associate Kevin Ring wrote.

Several people familiar with the lobbying effort said the possibility of White House help became moot when congressional leaders intervened.

In early 2003, Kaplan's new boss, House subcommittee chairman Charles Taylor, R-N.C., ended any problems in the House when he signed onto the Saginaw money. Burns' office took up the fight in the Senate.

Both oversaw subcomittees that controlled Interior's budget, and the two lawmakers wrote a letter in May 2003 in an effort to overcome resistance inside Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was arguing the Saginaw shouldn't qualify for the school program.

Bibliography

E-mails show Abramoff used donations to spur GOP helpBy John Soloman and Sharon Theimer
The Associated Press April 12, 2006

Taylor: Meeting not for cash; Can’t recall details of Abramoff team lunch
by Joel Burgess Asheville Citizen-Times
published April 19, 2006 12:15 am

Burns helped Abramoff tribes get fed moneyAssociated Press

Indian Tribe Severs Ties to Federal Abramoff Money The Associated Press
Friday, April 07, 2006

Charles Taylor Credibility Crisis: Part Three, The Abramoff Money

Other commentary at Scrutiny Hooligans

Charles Taylor's Signatures Dinner

Live Blogging Taylor's Radio Appearance

Voters deserve some answers from Taylor
April 14, 2006 Asheville Citizen Times editorial

Blue NC blog entries:
Live Blogging Taylor's Radio Appearance April 13, 2006

Tribe Returns $3 Million Grant Linked to Burns
April 7, 2006 Washington Post

Taylor won't return campaign donations from Abramoff, tribes
Associated Press

Taylor, Jones Should Give Up the Dirty Money

Charles Taylor: Working Hard for the Citizens of... Michigan?

Taylor Never Reported Use of Abramoff Restaraunt for Fundraiser by Paul Keil April 20, 2006

Congressman won't give away Abramoff contributions by Joel Burgess, Hendersonville Times-News, January 11, 2006

Former reformer flips sides
Hendersonville Times-News editorial, January 13. 2006 12:00AM

Taylor won't return campaign donations from Abramoff, tribes
January 11, 2006 Charlotte Observer

Taylor mum on Abramoff influence

Editorial: Rep. Charles Taylor and Jack Abramoff
April 14, 2006 Indianz.com

Voters deserve some answers from Taylor
April 14, 2006 Asheville Citizen Times editorial

Burns helped Abramoff tribes get fed money
November 4, 2005 Billings Gazette

Indian Tribe Severs Ties to Federal Abramoff Money
Friday, April 07, 2006 Associated Press

For time-line of Abramoff’s dealings before the Taylor connection was well known: Americans Deserve the Truth Hunting Down the Lies and Liars in Politics

Comments

Great Writeup!

I'm busy at the Democracy for America Grassroots Training right now, but I'm looking forward to getting this information to everyone who needs it. If you live in NC11, please write or call your local media outlets to let them know about this important story.

Great Citizen Journalism!

Scrutiny Hooligans - http://www.scrutinyhooligans.us

Links fixed and tags closed

and I'm ashamed to say...I see you already have my timeline and no...I haven't updated it to include CT's stuff. I've also moved a more current one to The Southern Dem since I was having trouble with Americans Deserve the Truth updating.



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