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Casino Bid Prompted High-Stakes Lobbying

CREA describes its mission as promoting "community-based" environmental solutions and "highlighting Republican environmental accomplishments." Some environmental groups contend its purpose is to put a pro-environment gloss on mining and petroleum interests.

Within weeks of the Coushattas' contribution, Federici -- who had worked on Norton's political campaigns in Colorado before she became interior secretary -- sent a note to Norton's scheduler requesting a meeting for the tribe's chairman, Lovelin Poncho. The meeting did not take place.

The Players

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton ultimately ruled in favor of the Jenas Band of Choctaws' casino application.

J. Steven Griles, Norton's deputy at Interior, allegedly mounted a late but unsuccessful challenge to the Jenas' plan.

Jack Abramoff, lobbying for a competing Indian tribe, mobilized anti-Jenas efforts outside and inside Washington.

David Vitter, then a congressman from Louisiana, urged Norton in February 2002 to turn down the Jenas' application.

Michael Scanlon and Abramoff were paid $32 million by the Louisiana Coushatta tribe, which operated a casino in the state.

Ralph Reed was paid up to $4 million by Abramoff and Scanlon to organize anti- gambling campaigns in Texas and Louisiana.

Opponents of the Jenas' bid invoked the name of evangelical leader James Dobson in order to pressure federal officials.

In July, Abramoff e-mailed a tribal lawyer that he had a call in to "our guy Steve Griles" and, if need be, would try to get Norton to send some "positive signals" to Louisiana's Republican governor about renewing the Coushattas' own gambling contract with the state.

Abramoff said he would proceed carefully, the e-mails obtained by The Post show. His first step would be "a quiet meeting" with Griles. "What we don't want is to have this new administration (which combines a complete lack of order -- since some of their appointees are only now getting into place -- with hostility to gaming in general) to do something which could hurt us. We have our friends inside in powerful positions, and need to make sure they are guiding us."

In September, tribal chairman Poncho finally got his meeting with Norton. Abramoff arranged for him to attend a CREA dinner in Georgetown with the secretary and Griles, records show.

In January 2002, the Coushattas were stunned to learn that after secret talks, then-Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster (R) had agreed that the Jena Band of Choctaws could build a casino in Vinton, close to the Texas state line and an hour from the $300 million-a-year Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, La. The state was to get 15.5 percent of the profits. The Coushattas already vied for customers with nearby non-Indian riverboat casinos and did not want any more competition.

The Jenas were an impoverished group of about 200 people spread through rural north-central Louisiana. They had won federal recognition as a tribe only in 1995 and had no reservation. Foster said the deal was good for the state.

The prospect of a Jena casino upset not only the Coushattas but also the Mississippi Choctaws, who had their own casino. They, too, were Abramoff clients.

Days after the Jena plan was announced, Abramoff faxed Griles a request for a meeting among Griles, Norton and Choctaw Chief Philip Martin. Griles appeared eager to accommodate him. He jotted a note on the fax and sent it to Norton's secretaries: "I would like 5/10 minute quick drop by photo with Sec. since [the Choctaw chief] missed her at the [September CREA] dinner! . . . Need let Jack know if this can happen!"

The meetings -- one with Norton and a longer one with Griles -- did take place on Feb. 5, 2002, according to Interior records.

Christian Coalition

Meanwhile, Abramoff opened a second front to bring outside pressure on Interior against the Jenas.

He looked to Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader who operated several consulting companies. Reed has acknowledged receiving as much as $4 million from Abramoff and his associate, Scanlon, to organize grass-roots anti-gambling campaigns in Louisiana and Texas. The money came from casino-rich Indian tribes, including the Coushattas, but Reed said that although he knew of Abramoff's connection to the tribes, he did not know until media accounts surfaced last summer that his fees came from gambling proceeds.

Reed then turned to Dobson to marshal his vast network of evangelicals, Abramoff's e-mails show.

Abramoff wrote to Scanlon in a Feb. 20, 2002, e-mail that Dobson would make radio ads against gambling. Reed "may finally have scored for us! Dobson goes up on the radio on this next week!" He suggested giving Reed $60,000 for the ads to run in Louisiana and Texas. "We'll then play it in the WH [White House] and Interior," he told Scanlon.

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