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Friday, July 12, 2024

Alaska GOP Rep ensnared in Abramoff scandal

The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal has reached Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young.

The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal has reached Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported Wednesday that Young
sought to intervene “on behalf of American Indian tribe clients of
lobbyist Jack Abramoff” in the lease of a historic building in downtown

Young and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, wrote
identical letters in September 2002 to the head of the General Services
Administration asking that the federal agency give priority to certain
disadvantaged businesses when the GSA considered development options
for the Old Post Office Pavilion.

The property is at the center
of felony charges against former GSA chief of staff David Safavian.
Safavian is accused of lying to federal investigators. He allegedly
denied that Abramoff had any business before the GSA in the summer of
2002, when the two were arranging for Safavian to join Abramoff and
others on a trip by chartered jet to Scotland.

According to FBI
documents supporting the charges, Safavian assisted Abramoff in his
plans for the Old Post Office, which ultimately went nowhere. In July
2002, Abramoff emailed Safavian a draft letter to the GSA that was
purportedly going to be signed by two or more members of Congress on
the issue of business preferences in bidding for the Post Office lease.

“Does this work, or do you want it to be longer?” Abramoff asked Safavian in the e-mail, according to the FBI document.

A few days later, Safavian forwarded to Abramoff an e-mail describing
opposition from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“I suspect we’ll end up having to bring some Hill pressure to bear on OMB,” Safavian wrote.

In August 2002, Abramoff took Safavian along on a $150,000 golfing junket to Scotland.

The lawmakers’ letters _ the first sent Sept. 5, 2002, by LaTourette
alone, the second sent a week later and signed by both he and Young _
do not mention any specific bidders or proposals. Rather, they advocate
on behalf of businesses eligible for the HUBzone priority program. The
HUB in the program’s name stands for Historically Underutilized
Business. Indian tribes like the ones Abramoff represented are one type
of business that is eligible for the program, but contractors from
certain urban and rural areas can also qualify.

It’s unclear
whether the draft letter Abramoff sent Safavian in July bears much of a
resemblance to the letters LaTourette and Young sent the GSA in
September, except that they both requested special consideration for
HUBzone businesses.

Young’s chief of staff, Michael Anderson,
told Roll Call that Young didn’t recall the origins of his to letter to
the GSA. He called it coincidence that Abramoff and Young were both
seeking HUBZone preferences on the Old Post Office project.

Anderson had no comment Wednesday, except to tell the Daily News that
Young has been an advocate for Native American issues since his
earliest days in public office. He also said it is not unusual for
members of Young’s committee to ask him to support them on an issue by
signing a letter, and Young does sign such letters when he agrees with
the content.

Young is chairman of the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over GSA’s management
of federal buildings. LaTourette is one of his subcommittee chairmen.

Abramoff, once one of Washington’s most powerful lobbyists, is
cooperating with federal prosecutors as they seek to expand their
investigation, and rumors abound about who may be indicted next.

His Indian tribe clients made more than $3 million in political
contributions since 1998, giving heavily to lawmakers’ campaigns and
their leadership political action committees. At least one tribe wrote
its checks at Abramoff’s specific direction, according to the accounts
of tribal leaders.

Abramoff’s clients gave Young about $20,000,
most of it to his leadership PAC, according to a database of the Center
for Responsive Politics. Young also enjoyed the use of Abramoff’s
skybox at Washington’s MCI Center for political fund raisers during
professional hockey games.