Senate Panel: Existing Laws Sufficient for Abramoff Fraud

Existing laws are sufficient to deal with the sort of massive fraud perpetrated by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a former aide to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Senate panel concluded Thursday.

In a 373-page report, the Republican-controlled Senate Indian Affairs Committee said that with regard to Abramoff and ex-DeLay aide Michael Scanlon collecting tens of millions of dollars from Indian tribes, "without doubt, the depth and breadth of their misconduct was astonishing."

"Nevertheless, with respect solely to the kickbacks from Scanlon to Abramoff, the committee concludes that existing federal criminal statutes are sufficient to deter and punish such misconduct," it said.

The committee report was entitled "Gimme Five," a reference to what Abramoff and Scanlon called their secret fee-splitting arrangement. The committee approved its release Thursday by a 13-0 vote.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, told reporters after the vote that the report "speaks for itself."

But Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said the conduct described in the report is "the worst case of greed in my 20 years in the Senate."

Abramoff and Scanlon have pleaded guilty in the extensive influence peddling probe and are cooperating with the Justice Department.

Two other congressional aides turned lobbyists, Tony Rudy and Neil Volz, also have pleaded guilty and are cooperating. A federal jury convicted former White House official David Safavian on Tuesday of covering up details of his relationship with Abramoff from committee investigators and others.

An ongoing federal investigation is looking into the actions of several members of Congress and former administration officials in connection with Abramoff.

Among those are two people who are mentioned in the report, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Interior Department deputy secretary Steven Griles, whose agency handled tribal casino approvals.

Ney denied to the committee that he agreed to try to insert a provision into election reform legislation in 2002 to help an American Indian tribe in Texas, the Tiguas, reopen a closed casino. Ney, in fact, told committee staff that he was unfamiliar with the tribe.

But the report notes that tribal representatives testified that Ney met with them in August 2002 and assured them he was trying to help the Tiguas in the legislation. Ney's lawyer later told the committee that his schedule for that day showed a half-hour meeting with the "Taqua." The report does not elaborate further.

Recent Justice Department court papers say Ney engaged in 16 actions on behalf of Abramoff at the same time the congressman and his staff were accepting gifts from the lobbyist.

Ney's office has blamed Ney's problems on "the lies and deception of Jack Abramoff."

Ney "has never, at any point, engaged in any improper, unethical or illegal activity," his office said Tuesday, after the Safavian verdict.

Griles has denied giving Abramoff or his clients preferential treatment. The committee was "unable to arrive at any definitive conclusions as to the veracity of Griles' testimony," the report said.

The committee did recommend that Indian tribes adopt their own laws "to help prevent a similar tragedy." The tribes hired Abramoff and Scanlon to deal with casino gambling issues. The Senate report said tribal contracting should adopt the principles of openness and competition.

The report said that in some cases, Abramoff and Scanlon obtained lobbying and grassroots contracts "by insinuating themselves into tribal council elections and assisting with the campaigns of candidates who were calculated to support their proposals."

The report concluded that in other cases, Abramoff and Scanlon "were even more aggressive, for example, helping to shut down the casino of one tribe, only to pitch their services for millions of dollars to help that same, now desperate Tribe reopen its casino."