CNN's Lou Dobbs reported on an Associated Press article published that day that he said demonstrated "the huge influence of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Congress" by showing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had written "at least four letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Abramoff." But the AP article left out important details of two incidents that purportedly link Reid to Abramoff -- details that undermine Dobbs' assertion that it demonstrates any influence Abramoff had with Reid.
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During the February 9 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Dobbs reported on an Associated Press article published that day that he said demonstrated "the huge influence of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Congress" by showing that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had written "at least four letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Abramoff." But as Media Matters for America previously noted, the February 9 AP article by staff writers John Solomon and Sharon Theimer left out important details of two incidents that purportedly link Reid to Abramoff -- details that undermine Dobbs' assertion that it demonstrates any influence Abramoff had with Reid.
The AP article suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands -- a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff -- without noting that, in fact, Reid was a co-sponsor of that legislation and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage. The Northern Marianas minimum wage provision was part of a broader bill to raise the U.S. minimum wage. The article mentions Abramoff associate Ronald Platt several times, describing him as a member of the "Democratic team" at Abramoff's firm, and quotes Reid spokesman Jim Manley saying that Reid met regularly with Platt to discuss policy issues. But while the story notes that Reid met with Platt in June 2001 to discuss the minimum wage bill, and reports that Platt "began billing for routine contacts and meetings with Reid's staff" in March 2001, it did not quote Platt at any point. Further, blogger Joshua Micah Marshall reported Platt's assertion that the AP reporters did not even attempt to contact him for the article.
Marshall also asked Platt whether Reid had taken any action against the minimum wage bill following their meeting, to which Platt responded, "I'm sure he didn't." According to Platt, the purpose of his contacts was to see what information he could get about the timing and status of the legislation. Reid's position on the minimum wage issue was well known and there would have been no point trying to get his help blocking it. That's what Platt says. "I didn't ask Reid to intervene," said Platt. "I wouldn't have asked him to intervene. I don't think anyone else would have asked. And I'm sure he didn't." At no point during the AP story were readers informed about Platt's contention that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss Reid's position on the legislation.
The AP also failed to note what subsequent action Reid took on the legislation; in fact, Reid spoke in support of the bill's passage in a May 6, 2002, speech on the Senate floor:
REID: The Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase the Federal minimum wage by $1.50 over 2 years. We are not asking it be kept up with inflation from when it was first established. About 80,000 Nevadans and about 9 million Americans would get a raise up to $6.65 during the next 2 years. This modest proposal would bring the real value of the minimum wage within a penny of the value it had in the 1980s.
The AP story also noted that Reid opposed legislation to approve a Michigan casino for a Native American tribe that would have rivaled a casino owned by a tribe represented by Abramoff. But the article omitted the fact that Reid said at the time that he opposed the legislation because it would create a "very dangerous precedent" for the spread of off-reservation gambling -- something Reid had opposed for nearly a decade. The AP further noted that Reid deemed the bill "fundamentally flawed" but neglected to mention why Reid said he reached that conclusion:
Reid went to the Senate floor to oppose fellow Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow's effort to win congressional approval for a Michigan casino for the Bay Mills Indians, which would have rivaled one already operating by the Saginaw Chippewa represented by Abramoff.
"The legislation is fundamentally flawed," Reid argued, successfully leading the opposition to Stabenow's proposal.
In fact, Reid said the legislation was flawed because it would allow the Bay Mills tribe to build an off-reservation casino "under the guise of settling a land claim." From the November 19, 2002, Congressional Record:
REID: [A]llowing a tribe to settle a land claim and receive trust land hundreds of miles from their reservation for the express purpose of establishing a gaming facility sets a very dangerous precedent.
This pursuit of off-reservation gaming operations should continue to follow the procedures outlined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Public Law 100-497, which authorizes tribal gaming operations on off-reservation ''after-acquired lands'' where the land to be acquired has no relationship to the land upon which the claim was based.
Let me say that the first gaming compact ever approved with an Indian tribe in the history of the country was done in Nevada. So it is not as if Nevada is here opposing this request. The first compact ever approved in the country was in Nevada. That is still an ongoing operation and a very successful one.
The proposed casino would be located just north of Detroit on a major link to Ontario that is in the lower corner of the lower peninsula. Bay Mills is located in the upper peninsula. The legislation is fundamentally flawed because it allows Bay Mills to establish gaming facilities under the guise of settling a land claim.
The land claim is simply -- and everybody knows this -- an excuse to take land into trust for off-reservation gaming. I object.
This position was entirely consistent with Reid's longtime opposition to off-reservation gambling. As early as 1998, Reid supported the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which generally prohibited Indian gaming on non-tribal lands. He proposed separate legislation in 1993 "prohibit[ing] states from opening gaming operations on off-reservation land" [AP, 5/28/93].
From the February 9 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: And a new report tonight, apparently demonstrating the huge influence of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Congress. Senate Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid wrote at least four letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Abramoff, according to The Associated Press. Senator Reid reportedly collected nearly $70,000 from groups associated with Abramoff. Abramoff himself has pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges. He is now helping federal prosecutors investigate lawmakers and their staffs. Tonight, Senator Reid's office said he did not write the letters to Indian tribes on behalf of Abramoff and Senator Reid has never taken contributions from Abramoff.