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Casino Bid Prompted High-Stakes Lobbying

With the March 7 deadline for Interior's decision approaching, Vitter fired off another strong letter to Norton, this one co-signed by 26 House conservatives, as Federici had predicted.

Over the next two weeks, senior members of Congress also weighed in with letters, among them Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, Mississippi Republicans and longtime supporters of the Mississippi Choctaws who received $68,500 and $27,000, respectively, from Abramoff's lobbying team and tribal clients. Breaux, whose legislative aide, Stephanie Leger Short, had just gone to work for Abramoff as a Coushatta lobbyist, sent Norton a stack of anti-Jena constituent mail. Breaux received $14,250 from the lobbyists and their tribal clients.

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.

On March 6, Poncho, the Coushatta chief, approved cutting 61 checks to members of Congress and their political action committees, some for as much as $25,000, according to tribal and federal election records. The list labeled "Coushatta requests" was prepared by Abramoff, according to tribal representatives. One list provided to The Post by tribal council member David Sickey includes a request for $100,000 for CREA and the notation: "Council for Republican Advocacy (Norton)."

One day later, Interior announced its decision on the Jena casino. Assistant Secretary Neal A. McCaleb said that Louisiana's revenue-sharing proposal amounted to an impermissible tax on the tribe. The casino plan was scuttled.

Second Chance

But the Jenas were not finished. They and their casino development company hired new lobbyists at Patton Boggs LLP. Soon they had a new proposal for a casino in Logansport, La., in a district represented by Rep. Jim McCrery (R).

The Jenas also hired lobbyist Wallace Henderson, former chief of staff to Breaux and then-Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R). In early 2003, the two lawmakers shocked the Abramoff lobbying team when they offered the Jenas tacit support.

"We just found out that Billy Tauzin is now supporting the Jena effort to put the casino in McCrery's district!" Abramoff said in an e-mail to Federici on Feb. 18, 2003. ". . . This will be a PR disaster as you can imagine, especially if for some reason Interior agrees to approve this deal. McCrery and Vitter (the other R's in the delegation) are furious beyond belief. This is going to get really ugly. Please let Steve know about this. Thanks so much Italia!"

Former Abramoff associates said the "Steve" referred to by Abramoff was Steven Griles.

Federici, citing the ongoing federal investigation, declined to comment on why Abramoff would ask her to communicate with Griles on his behalf. Interior spokesman Dan DuBray said the department's inspector general is reviewing contacts between Griles and Federici as part of the government's Abramoff investigation.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Federici listed Griles as a witness in her lawsuit against the owner of a Watergate apartment where she lived. Federici contended that Griles had a conversation with the owner about her rental arrangements.

Federici and her lawyer declined to comment on the e-mail or her relationship with Griles. "You have the documents. They say what they say. I don't want her responding to this," lawyer Michael G. Scheininger said.

The Coushattas and the Saginaw Chippewa in Michigan, also an Abramoff client, say they paid Federici's group a total of $225,000 during the Jena fight. Federici said she could not confirm the amount because environmental groups guard the privacy of their donors. "We live and die by that rule, just as the Sierra Club does," she said.

Federici said she would be disturbed "if any tribe is intimating they were solicited by CREA for anything other than environmental work. CREA's money is spent on environmental work, period."

McCrery, in whose district the Jena now planned to build, wanted to introduce "a bill to address the Jena issue," according to an e-mail Leger Short sent in May to Abramoff. She wrote that "Bob" sent her a draft bill, which she circulated for reaction, and said she was to meet with him the following day.

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