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Editorial

Tribal Trickery

Tuesday, September 28, 2004; Page A26

"IS LIFE GREAT or what!!!"

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff dashed off that exuberant e-mail to his business partner, public relations consultant Michael Scanlon, on Feb. 19, 2002. The two men were angling to get hired by the Tigua Indian tribe, whose casino had just been shut down by the state of Texas, and Mr. Abramoff was responding to an e-mail about a report in the El Paso paper that 450 casino employees had lost their jobs.

Whether or not life was great for Messrs. Abramoff and Scanlon, it was certainly lucrative: Overall, they collected at least $50 million from Indian tribes that operate casinos and sought the pair's help to stay in business. Although the Tigua never got their $60 million-a-year casino reopened, they shelled out $4.2 million to Mr. Scanlon's firm -- as part of a lobbying plan called "Operation Open Doors." Another piece of the door-opening? The tribe, Mr. Abramoff advised, "will have to make approximately $300,000 in federal political contributions."

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What the Tigua didn't know, according to a report by The Post's Susan Schmidt, was that just before the pair hit the tribe up for business, they were actively working, on behalf of rival tribes, to shut down the Tigua casino. "We should continue to pile on until the place is shuttered," Mr. Abramoff wrote in a November 2001 e-mail to Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition head who was retained (to the tune of more than $4 million) to organize a coalition to oppose several Indian casinos. Three months later, even as he wrote to Mr. Reed about "those moronic Tigua," Mr. Abramoff was telling a Tigua representative that he could fix the "gross indignity perpetuated by the Texas state authorities" and that he had already lined up "a couple of Senators willing to ram this through." Reports about greedy lobbyists may be the Washington equivalent of the dog-bites-man story, even when the fees, as in this case, are so enormous as to leave others in their business agape. But the exploitative twist uncovered by Ms. Schmidt -- making money by sticking it to the tribe, then making even more by promising to undo the damage -- takes the tale to a new level of avarice and duplicity. Meantime, The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reports in today's paper on an Abramoff-founded charity, the Capitol Athletic Foundation, which received more than $2 million from three of Mr. Abramoff's tribal clients. The charity's activities included a $150,225 golfing trip by private jet to Scotland, including House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Mr. Reed.

Federal authorities are investigating, as is the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which plans a hearing tomorrow. Whether the conduct of Messrs. Abramoff and Scanlon constituted a crime remains to be determined. That their actions were loathsome is hardly open to question.


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