December 13, 2005

Senator returns cash from Abramoff Indian clients

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Democrat on a committee
looking into possible lobbying fraud said on Tuesday he had
returned $67,000 in contributions from clients and co-workers
of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the center of the scandal.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakotan who sits on the Indian
Affairs Committee, said he returned the money because of
reports that Abramoff had directed tribal contributions his way
as he made decisions that affected tribal matters.

"Even though these contributions were legal and fully
reported as required by law, I will not knowingly keep even one
dollar in contributions if there is even a remote possibility
that they could have been the result of any action Mr. Abramoff
might have taken," Dorgan said in a statement.

Investigators on the Indian Affairs Committee have found
that much of the $82 million that Abramoff and his former
partner Michael Scanlon billed their tribal clients was spent
on a variety of pet projects or simply disappeared.

"What we have learned of Mr. Abramoff's activities
convinces me that he is a corrupt individual who bilked Indian
tribes out of tens of millions of dollars," Dorgan said in his

Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum declined to comment.

But the investigation has also cast a spotlight on Dorgan's
dealings with Indian tribes.

Dorgan has asked the Interior Department to help tribes pay
for school construction, a position pushed by Abramoff clients,
according to the Washington Post, and held a 2001 fund-raiser
in a sports-arena skybox that was leased by an Abramoff
company. Dorgan said he thought the skybox was controlled by
Abramoff's lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig.

Dorgan said he had returned contributions from tribes that
were Abramoff clients and co-workers of Abramoff's at Greenberg

Dorgan said he has never met Abramoff or received political
contributions from him, and any contributions directed by
Abramoff were done without his knowledge.

Dorgan will keep contributions from tribes that did not
work with Abramoff, a spokesman said.

Dorgan is not the only lawmaker to face scrutiny as part of
the growing Abramoff scandal. The Justice Department is
investigating whether Abramoff made illegal payoffs to several
top Republicans, including former House of Representatives
Speaker Tom DeLay of Texas.

Scanlon, a former top aide of DeLay, has pleaded guilty to
conspiracy to bribe public officials and is expected to
cooperate in the Justice Department's probe.