Abramoff's Specter Rises Again, Troubling GOP Hopeful
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Gary H. Baise said he had "not a clue" that the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, the group that still lists him as an honorary board member, was in the middle of the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, as federal investigators now allege.
Baise, a Washington lawyer and Republican candidate for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, "hardly ever saw" CREA co-founder Italia Federici, who, according to Legal Times, has been told by prosecutors that she might be charged with fraud, tax evasion and giving false testimony to a Senate committee.
Federici had a romantic relationship with J. Steven Griles, a coal industry lobbyist and deputy interior secretary during President Bush's first term. Griles pleaded guilty last month to lying to Congress in 2005 about his relationship with Abramoff. It was Federici who introduced Griles to Abramoff, and it was CREA that received $500,000 from Abramoff's clients, which included Native American tribes, and from energy and mining interests.
Abramoff is serving nearly six years for fraud, tax evasion and bribery of public officials.
Baise, a former Nixon-era Environmental Protection Agency chief of staff who frequently represents industrial and agricultural clients in environmental litigation, said he got involved with CREA through two friends, James R. Moseley, a former deputy secretary of agriculture, and Douglas P. Wheeler, a former California secretary of resources who serves on what CREA's Web site called its Honorary Board.
Baise said he reviewed drafts of papers and press releases, and offered advice to CREA for its main mission, to promote what it called the Republican environmentalism in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt. This included defending the Bush administration's record on the environment and exposing what the group calls flaws and hypocrisies of liberal environmentalists.
Baise said he knew Federici largely through phone consultations.
"I never met Mr. Griles, I can say," Baise said, adding that it was the same in the case of Abramoff.
Baise added that he is not surprised about the inquiries he has received. He said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) told him that his Democratic opponent, incumbent Gerald E. Connolly, intended to "hang Abramoff around my neck."
Davis did not return a phone message. Connolly said he made no such statement.
"Certainly not," Connolly said. He did say, however, that he mentioned to Davis recently that his campaign's research had revealed Baise's connection to CREA.
"I remember telling Tom we were surprised to discover what we discovered about CREA. That may have been Tom saying, 'You better watch it,' " Connolly said.