Published January 29, 2006
WASHINGTON – A California congressman who accepted campaign cash from disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and used his sports box for a fundraiser interceded on behalf of two American Indian tribes that were represented by Abramoff's firm, documents show.
GOP Rep. John Doolittle wrote Interior Secretary Gale Norton in June 2003 criticizing the Bush administration's response to a tribal government dispute involving the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa. In October 2003, Doolittle appealed in a letter to the secretary for quicker action for a Massachusetts tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag, that was seeking federal recognition.
Both tribes signed on with Abramoff's lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, that year. Sac & Fox hired the firm in May, the Wampanoags in November. Neither tribe appears tied to Doolittle's rural Northern California district, and Doolittle is not on the House committee that handles Indian issues.
The letters were obtained by The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Doolittle's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a radio interview a week ago, Doolittle said he did nothing wrong in his relations with Abramoff. He described Abramoff as a friend who rarely lobbied the lawmaker.
Doolittle also disputed reports by the AP and other news organizations that his ties to Abramoff have caught the attention of federal investigators. Abramoff pleaded guilty this month to corruption charges and agreed to tell the FBI about bribes to lawmakers and their aides.
"Come investigate me, come contact me, because I know what the truth is and I'll come out with a clean record," Doolittle said.
The letters are the latest example of connections between Abramoff's interests and Doolittle, a conservative ally of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and a member of the House GOP leadership.
Doolittle accepted at least $14,000 in campaign money from Abramoff from 1999 to 2001, records show, and initially failed to report a 1999 fundraiser in Abramoff's sky box, as required.
He took tens of thousands of dollars more from Abramoff's tribal clients, including $5,000 in 2004 from the Sac & Fox tribe, also known as the Meskwaki.
Doolittle's wife did fundraising work for Abramoff, and a former Doolittle aide later went to work as a lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig.
Doolittle was among more than two dozen lawmakers who signed a February 2002 letter to Norton urging her to reject an Indian casino in Louisiana opposed by Abramoff's tribal clients. After that letter became public in November, Doolittle's spokeswoman, Laura Blackann, said he signed it only because of his "longheld anti-gaming position."
In his letter to Norton about the Sac & Fox Tribe, Doolittle complained that the tribe's casino was wrongly shut down because the Bureau of Indian Affairs refused to recognize a newly elected tribal council. The new council hired Abramoff's firm after the elections.
"I fear that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has ignored precedent during the course of the tribe's governance dispute and its failure to lead has resulted in significant economic damage to the tribe and surrounding region," Doolittle wrote.
Ultimately BIA oversaw new elections and certified victory by the Abramoff-backed faction, and the casino reopened. The losing faction is now suing, suggesting BIA officials may have been influenced by Abramoff.
In the case of the Mashpee tribe, Doolittle wrote Norton, "It appears that they have been forced to wait too long to receive an answer to their petition for recognition."
The Mashpee tribe now appears on the verge of attaining recognition. The federal government has promised a preliminary decision by March on the tribe's long-standing application.