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Friday, August 15, 2008

McCain Plunges Into Abramoff Territory

Controversy continues to simmer over John McCain's decision to sign off on a fundraiser in Atlanta involving former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed.

The event is scheduled for Monday, even though Reed has connections to the corruption scandal involving disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides an overview of the issues behind the event.

The story resonates in Alabama because it has been widely reported that Abramoff and Reed helped funnel millions of Mississippi Choctaw gambling dollars into our state to help Bob Riley beat Don Siegelman in the 2002 gubernatorial election.

Congress stepped into the fray today when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) hosted a media conference call to discuss connections between Reed and Abramoff. Lindsay Beyerstein has a report about the conference call at her Majikthise blog. Waxman called on McCain to cancel the event and return any money he has received from Reed.

From Beyerstein's report:

In his prepared statement, Waxman reviewed the highlights of the sprawling email record linking Reed and Abramoff as "conspirators in a money laundering scheme."

The Chairman's message was clear: Reed wasn't just some hapless subcontractor who got paid with Abramoff's dirty money, he was an integral partner a scheme to bilk Indian tribes out of millions of dollars.

Beyerstein also provides details about the Abramoff/Reed connection to Alabama:

Waxman's committee did its own Abramoff investigation focusing on the lobbyist's contacts with the White House, so he has his Abramology down pat.

In one notorious episode in their long and profitable collaboration, Abramoff hired Reed to help defeat a 1999 lottery ballot initiative in Alabama. Reed's job was to drum up evangelical opposition to the measure. The operation was bankrolled by the Mississippi Choctaw Indians with a view to quashing potential competition for their casino.

Obviously, the former head of the Christian Coalition couldn't openly accept gambling money as part of a scheme to force Alabamians to patronize casinos. So, Abramoff arranged to launder the money through various think tanks and non-profits.

Abramoff would give the money to an innocuous-sounding intermediary and the intermediary pass it on to Reed. Millions of dollars flowed from Indian casinos into Ralph Reed's pocket and Republican campaign coffers.

Sometimes, Reed's money came through front companies owned on paper by Abramoff's chief accomplice, Michael Scanlon, Waxman said.

Michael Scanlon, of course, worked for current Alabama Governor Bob Riley. Here are Beyerstein's thoughts about Scanlon's role in the Abramoff scheme:

I think this is a key point because the Scanlon front companies were the linchpin of the Gimme Five kickback scandal.

Abramoff and Scanlon charged the tribes vastly inflated fees, "hired" Scanlon's company to do nothing, and split the take between them.

Trying to conceal the source of legit money for purely political reasons isn't money laundering. Abramoff was a legitimate Choctaw lobbyist who paid Reed to do something sleazy and underhanded. Still, Reed did real work riling up "the wackos," as Scanlon famously called the evangelical base.

However, trying to conceal the source of money obtained through a crime is money laundering. Scanlon's companies existed as receptacles for funds obtained by deceit. The secrecy was concealing the fact that Abramoff and Scanlon were routing this money to their friend Reed.

The Reed fundraiser raises serious ethical issues for McCain, Waxman said:

John McCain's decision to attend Ralph Reed's event raised eyebrows. McCain led the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation of Abramoff's dealings with the tribes.

"McCain likes to brag that he took on Jack Abramoff," Waxman said.

Waxman noted that despite Reed's pivotal role in the Indian gaming scandal, McCain didn't even call Reed to testify at the Indian Affairs hearing. [Schnauzer note: It also has been reported that McCain ignored evidence that linked Bob Riley to Abramoff.]

One reporter asked Waxman about the tens of thousands of documents McCain assembled in the course of his investigation but refuses to release to the public.

Waxman told us that John McCain has documents that even the House Oversight Committee couldn't get.

Brad Woodhouse of the DNC speculated that McCain embarked on his Abramoff investigation with one eye towards good government and "one eye towards protecting [certain] people." He didn't elaborate on who those people were.

Waxman disagreed. He said he was prepared to give McCain the benefit of the doubt. However, Waxman continued, given that McCain was so deeply immersed in the Abramoff scandal, he knows exactly how corrupt Ralph Reed really is.

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