Senate Majority Project

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

John Cornyn and the Abramoff Scandal

This morning, The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a fourth hearing expected to further expose the degree to which Jack Abramoff defrauded Native American Tribes that hired him as a lobbyist. The hearing today will focus on his work for the Coshutta Tribe in Louisiana which was seeking to lobby the Department of Interior to reject the application of a rival tribe for a casino. Abramoff eventually extracted $36 million from the tribe in part to allegedly convince Texas voter not to legalize gambling.

Testimony of Coshutta Tribe Councilman David Sickey today revealed that Abramoff and Michael Scanlon obtained the contract by over-hyping the threat that gambling could be legalized in Texas, and bragging that they had “critical influence with Texas officials who could defeat Texas gambling.”

Texas’ chief gambling cop at the time was Attorney General John Cornyn. With the help of Abramoff, Scanlon and Ralph Reed, Cornyn rose to prominence in Texas by shutting down the Tigua casino, a client that Abramoff was simultaneously convincing to pay him millions to keep the casino open. [Washington Post, 9/25/2004]

Cornyn won final judgment in the lawsuit to close the casino in February 2002, weeks after formally kicking off his U.S. Senate campaign, saying "I will be a senator who will fight hard for true Texas values, and a conservative senator who will work for and stand beside our great president” [Houston Chronicle, 1/14/2002, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 4/17/2005]

His effort was no doubt helped along by the $4 million anti-gambling campaign funded by Abramoff and run by Ralph Reed – formerly of the Christian Coalition and currently a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia. E-mails released previously show that Reed and Abramoff were closely connected and receiving inside information from Cornyn’s office and keeping him posted on their efforts over a period of months. And the campaign itself was expressly an effort to provide political cover for Cornyn’s efforts. [U.S. News and World Report, 8/29/2005, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/19/2005]

But Cornyn’s race didn’t just profit from the publicity. Near the end of the campaign, Reed wrote to Abramoff saying “I think we should budget for an ataboy for cornyn” [sic]. Abramoff contributed $1,000, the maximum amount legally allowed. Cornyn also received $6,250 in contributions from Las Vegas casino interests who oppose Indian gaming, some of which were made at the same time Cornyn was pushing to close the Tigua's casino. In addition, a rival casino owner, Stanley Fulton, who was seeking to keep the Tigua casino closed, gave $1.25 million to the RNC. The RNC transferred a total of $2.8 million to the Texas Republican Party. Fulton also gave the maximum legal contribution to Cornyn’s Senate campaign. [El Paso Times, 10/30/2002]

Today, Cornyn pleads amnesia, saying he has no recollection of any contact with Abramoff. [Fort Worth Star Telegram, 4/17/2005]

The hearings into Abramoff’s dealings are a start, but the examination should not exclude the hard questions for the public officials and candidates who made his scams possible.