Monday, May 23, 2005

The Tangled Web

Not that it’s a huge surprise, but the New York Times finds that Grover Norquist, the man who said he wanted to shrink Social Security to a size that he could drown it in a bathtub, is caught up in the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay Indian casino-Marianas Island lobbying mess.

While Mr. Abramoff has been under scrutiny for more than a year, Mr. Norquist has attracted unwelcome attention in recent weeks. A Congressional committee investigating whether Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes has subpoenaed records from Mr. Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, after he refused for six months to turn them over voluntarily.

The Justice Department is reviewing records of an advocacy group Mr. Norquist started with Gale A. Norton, now secretary of the interior, after reports that Mr. Abramoff instructed Indian tribes to give it $250,000. And Mr. Norquist’s name appears over and over in newly disclosed documents outlining Mr. Abramoff’s work in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American protectorate in the Pacific, which Democrats are agitating to investigate.

In interviews, Mr. Norquist dismissed any suggestion of wrongdoing on his part and said that the only reason he is “getting dragged into this” is because Senator John McCain, the head of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating Mr. Abramoff, holds a grudge against Mr. Norquist for campaigning for President Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries.

“McCain hates me,” he said.

(Well, if it’s any comfort, Grover, so do a lot of other people.)

Indian tribes say Mr. Abramoff dropped Mr. Norquist’s name when he began trying to win their business. Mr. Norquist used his platform to argue against taxing Indian gambling. Mr. Abramoff billed the tribes tens of millions of dollars to try to fend off antigambling groups and regulators and to send members of Congress on lavish overseas trips. The tribes say Mr. Abramoff also instructed them to give money to Mr. Norquist’s groups as way of getting an audience with the Bush administration. The tribes gave $1.5 million to Americans for Tax Reform and $250,000 to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, the group founded by Mr. Norquist and Ms. Norton.

And let’s not forget that Ralph Reed, the former acolyte to Pat Robertson, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, and lobbyist for Microsoft, is also caught up in this, and they’re all connected, through Abramoff, to Tom DeLay. It all has a bit of deja vu…especially for those of you over 50 who remember Bobby Baker.