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The Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s 357-page final report on its two-year investigation into the activities of former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff goes easy on few of the lobbyists, companies, and other assorted characters in Abramoff’s orbit during the time he tried to bribe a congressman, bilked his Indian clients out of millions, and set up sham charities and companies to disguise his actions. But the one party close to Abramoff that escapes with few scratches is Greenberg Traurig, the Miami-based law and lobby firm that served as Abramoff’s base while he carried out the bulk of his misdeeds. Abramoff’s schemes, the report states, “required Abramoff to deceive his former employer, Greenberg Traurig.” But even as the report portrays the firm, and particularly Fred Baggett, the head of its national lobby practice, as victims of Abramoff’s machinations, it raises new questions about Greenberg’s role in the affair. Among the new issues the report raises are the firm’s knowledge of Abramoff’s financial arrangements with Michael Scanlon, Abramoff’s one-time partner who pleaded guilty to defrauding Abramoff’s tribal clients last year; Scanlon’s relationship with the firm; and the billing practices of two lawyers who worked under Abramoff. Most of the new information in the report comes from the committee’s closed-door interviews with Baggett and the so-called Team Abramoff members — the former lobbyists who worked closely with Abramoff at Greenberg. Accounts of those interviews had not previously been made available by the committee. Greenberg declined to comment on the report, citing “ongoing government investigations.” Though questions are raised about Greenberg, few are answered. In fact, the report goes out of its way to separate Abramoff’s activities from those of the firm. It’s a sympathy for the firm that the committee has held from the beginning, when, at its first hearing into Abramoff’s tribal lobbying, in October 2004, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said, “Credible law firms were taken advantage of.” Greenberg’s role in the Abramoff affair has been one riddled with contradictions: It employed Abramoff from 2001 to 2004, taking in more than $22 million in lobby fees from Abramoff’s tribal clients, and, lobbyists there say, gave him all of the deference that comes with being an eight-figure rainmaker. Few direct questions were asked of Abramoff, say lobbyists who worked with him at Greenberg. And according to accounts in the report, the firm did not push very hard when Abramoff provided it with improbable answers to its inquiries. But that the committee has treated Greenberg with kid gloves may come as no surprise: In the early phases of the committee’s investigation, the firm turned over three years’ worth of Abramoff’s e-mails — missives that have served as the committee’s smoking gun against Abramoff and, by their locker-room character, turned a dull political scandal into something with character development (and language) more reminiscent of a Hollywood screenplay. EXPLAIN, JACK Among the Greenberg-specific episodes detailed in the report is one where the firm became suspicious about the nature of a purported think tank called the American International Center, which in actuality was an entity controlled by Scanlon that channeled money back to Abramoff. Scanlon and Abramoff directed their tribal clients to make millions of dollars in payments to the center, and split those payments 50/50.
RELATED STORIES
• Another Abramoff Associate to Plead Guilty (June 28, 2006)• Ex-Abramoff Associate Safavian Found Guilty (June 20, 2006)• Gamble on Volz Didn’t Pan Out (May 15, 2006)• K Street Mulls Jack Factor (January 9, 2006)• Abramoff Pleads Guilty (January 3, 2006)• Don’t Know Jack (August 15, 2005)

The American International Center became a Greenberg client in 2001, paying the firm $1.68 million over three years, according to Senate lobby disclosure reports. According to Baggett’s interviews with the committee, the firm was told that Abramoff was representing the American International Center on “Malaysian-related interests and issues.” In actuality, the American International Center served as a front to conceal Abramoff’s lobbying for Malaysia. Baggett told the committee that in 2002 he “asked Jack to explain [the] AIC and the nature of the relationship to ensure that we [did] not have a problem [with the Foreign Agents Registration Act].” Greenberg even went so far as to ask Brian Mann, the titular director of the American International Center, what the relationship was between Abramoff and the supposed think tank. Baggett told investigators the firm did not know at the time that Scanlon controlled the group. In response to Greenberg’s inquiries, Scanlon e-mailed his assistant a draft of a letter that was eventually sent to Greenberg under Mann’s name, threatening to terminate the contract: “While Mr. Abnramoof [sic] and His [sic] team have been an unbeleiveable [sic] asset [sic] tou [sic] our organization, we feel that if as a vendor of ours if we are presented with such an unexplicalbe [sic] line of qustioning [sic] again, we will unfortuantley [sic] review and vote on your continuing representation at our next board meeting,” Scanlon wrote. The letter did not state that Scanlon controlled the center, that Greenberg’s tribal clients were its prime source of income, or that Abramoff received a share of the money the tribes paid to the center. Nevertheless, Greenberg continued to represent the American International Center for another two years, collecting $140,000 in lobby fees during that time. Another interesting episode to emerge from the committee’s report involves the billing of tribal clients by former Greenberg lawyer Shana Tesler and associate Samuel Hook, who are married to each other and worked closely with Abramoff at Greenberg. Stephanie Leger Short, a former lobbyist who worked for Greenberg and who is now the state of Louisiana’s top Washington lobbyist, told committee investigators that Tesler and Hook routinely billed clients for hours they did not work. “Towards the end, [Tesler] and Sam were not at Greenberg, physically, often at all.” She added, “It was common knowledge within our group that they weren’t there, but hours were on our bills.” Tesler and Hook now live in Israel. Their lawyer, Alyza Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, says that Tesler and Hook accurately accounted for all work they performed and “all the billing was done at Jack’s direction.” FAR FROM OVER The committee’s report offers several new details about the evolution of Abramoff’s companies and organizations. The Capital Athletic Foundation, like many entities controlled by Abramoff, was funded primarily by payments from his tribal clients. The foundation paid for the now-infamous golf junket to Scotland attended by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, and former Bush administration official David Safavian, who last month was convicted of lying to Senate and General Services Administration investigators and obstructing a separate GSA investigation into Abramoff. The report details Abramoff’s attempt in 2000 to finance the foundation with a $5 million federal earmark by tapping his connection to Tony Rudy, who was then-Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) deputy chief of staff and who has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with his involvement with Abramoff. After receiving little interest from then-Rep. Connie Morella (R), who represented Abramoff’s suburban Maryland district, he turned to his tribal clients to fund the group, including the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, which paid $1 million to the foundation in 2001. A lawyer for the tribe — which paid Greenberg, Abramoff, Scanlon, and entities controlled by the duo more than $36 million — told Legal Times that it will be moving forward with its civil suit against Greenberg, which it put on hold until the committee finished its investigation. It had originally filed suit in 2004. While the report spares few of its targets, it offers few solutions. The first point mentioned in its five-page list of recommendations is that “no new or revised federal legislation [is] needed.” The committee’s recommendations belie its chairman and most vocal driver of its investigation into Abramoff, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has pushed fervently for now-stalled lobby reform legislation.


Andy Metzger can be contacted at [email protected].

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