Thursday, November 03, 2005

Oh Dear! My Staff Has Run Amok. By The Way, Did You Get The Skybox I Asked For?

Scooter Libby...knocked out of the box. Harriet Miers...back to the minors. Samuel Alito...batting second and playing right field...Karl the clubhouse cleaning out his locker. You know who hasn't been on the field in a while? Big bat Tom DeLay.

Delay's staff helped lobbyist Jack Abramoff win access to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, an effort that succeeded after Abramoff's Indian tribe clients began funneling a quarter-million dollars to an environmental group founded by Norton.

"Hey, this is my staff you're talking about," said Mr. DeLay at a recent press conference. "I can't watch over them day and night. I have to trust them to be as straightforward, forthright and law abiding as I am." DeLay paused for a moment, then said, "OK, I think I see where the problem might be."

Tom Rudy, a DeLay staffer, wrote Abramoff promising he had "good news" about securing a meeting with Norton, forwarding information about the environmental group Norton had founded. Within months, Abramoff clients donated heavily to the Norton-founded group and the lobbyist and a representative from one of the tribes he represented won face-to-face time with the secretary.

"The secretary is a very busy person," said an Interior Department spokesperson. "Her time is extremely valuable. In fact, it costs about a quarter million dollars an hour. And that's with the Native American discount."

Abramoff's clients were trying to stop a rival Indian tribe from winning Interior Department approval to build a casino. "We thought about raiding their camp at night and stealing all their horses, but Mr. Abramoff said this would be a better way to go," said a spokesperson for the group represented by the lobbyist.

DeLay signed a letter with other GOP House leaders to Norton on behalf of Abramoff's clients, records show. A spokesperson for DeLay's office denied any connection between the letter, Abramoff's firm and the money given to Norton's organization. "Mr. DeLay likes Indians," the spokesperson said. "You know that stuff they do with turquoise? He's always buying it and giving it as gifts. And blankets. He likes their blankets too."

The assistance to Abramoff from DeLay's staff occurred just a few months after DeLay received political donations, free use of a skybox and an all-expense paid trip to play golf in Scotland arranged by Abramoff and mostly underwritten by his clients. "The guy only makes $162,000 a year," said a DeLay spokesperson. How do you expect him to afford skyboxes and European golf trips on that pittance?"

"Tom DeLay conducts himself consistent with the highest standards of conduct and he mandated the same for his staff," Delay attorney Richard Cullen said. Paramedics had to be called to revive him after a choking episode caused him to lose consciousness.

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