Focus on the Family's Minnery contradicted himself regarding group's involvement with Abramoff associate Reed in casino scheme

››› ››› MAX BLUMENTHAL

On the February 17 broadcast of his radio program, Focus on the Family president James C. Dobson and Tom Minnery, the organization's vice president of public policy, sought to fend off questions arising from reports of their alleged collusion with convicted felon and former gambling industry lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a scheme to shut down competition to his clients' casinos. While both Dobson and Minnery deny working with Abramoff, email exchanges between Abramoff and associates Ralph Reed and Michael Scanlon appear to contradict Dobson and Minnery's claim that Focus on the Family's activities in opposition to the expansion of a Louisiana casino had nothing to do with requests from Abramoff or Reed.

On the February 17 broadcast of his Focus on the Family radio program, program host and Focus on the Family president James C. Dobson and Tom Minnery, the organization's vice president of public policy, sought to fend off questions arising from reports in The Washington Post and World Magazine of their alleged collusion with convicted felon and former gambling industry lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a scheme to shut down competition to his clients' casinos.

Contradicting his own statement to World Magazine that Dobson may have acted in at least one instance at the behest of Abramoff associate and former Christian Coalition of America director Ralph Reed, Minnery claimed that Focus on the Family crusaded against the same casinos Abramoff was trying to shut down by mere coincidence. Yet, just 13 days earlier, in the February 4 online edition of World Magazine, writer Jamie Dean reported that Minnery told World that it was "possible," in the magazine's words, that Dobson had written to Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton after Reed requested that he do so. Dobson and others leaned on Norton to thwart attempts by the Jena Band of Choctaws Indian tribe to expand a casino in Louisiana that competes with one owned by Abramoff's clients, the Coushatta tribe.

Moreover, numerous email exchanges between Abramoff, Reed, and Abramoff's business partner, Michael Scanlon, appear to contradict Minnery's claim that Focus on the Family's activities in opposition to the expansion of the Jena Choctaw casino had nothing to do with requests from Abramoff or Reed. (Those emails, subpoenaed and made public by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, can be downloaded here. Key correspondences can be downloaded from World Magazine here and here).

"Now, as it happens," Minnery said on the February 17 edition of Focus on the Family, "we, Focus on the Family, we're fighting this new Indian casino in Louisiana at the very same time. Not because Ralph Reed asked us. Not because Jack Abramoff asked us."

However, in the February 4 online edition of World Magazine, reporter Jamie Dean wrote: "Tom Minnery, a senior vice president at Focus on the Family, told WORLD it's possible Mr. Reed asked Mr. Dobson to write a letter to Gale Norton." Minnery himself wrote a similar letter to Norton, as did current Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins -- who was then a member of the Louisiana state legislature. Dobson was a founding board member of the FRC upon its creation in 1983.

According to a March 13, 2005, Washington Post article, "Jack Abramoff, one of Washington's most prominent Republican lobbyists, tapped into the gambling riches of a rival tribe to orchestrate a far-reaching campaign against the Jena Band of Choctaws -- calling on senior U.S. senators and congressmen, the deputy secretary of the interior and evangelical leaders James Dobson and Ralph Reed."

The Post reported that Abramoff paid no less than $4 million to Reed -- currently a candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia -- to solicit the involvement of Christian right leaders in a series of schemes to ward off competition from Abramoff's Indian casino clients. During the Focus on the Family broadcast, Dobson and Minnery denied that their involvement in the campaign to stop the expansion of the casinos of competitors to Abramoff's clients was in any way solicited or manipulated by Abramoff or Reed.

A portion of Dobson and Minnery's on-air discussion:

MINNERY: Now, as it happens, we, Focus on the Family, we're fighting this new Indian casino in Louisiana at the very same time. Not because Ralph Reed asked us. Not because Jack Abramoff asked us. Because our trusted allies in Louisiana asked us. That would be Gene Mills at the Louisiana Family Forum and Tony Perkins, who was then in the Louisiana legislature. That's how we get involved in nearly all of our state-by-state public policy activities. In the course of the investigation, and this is where it gets close to home -- in the course of the investigation of Abramoff's illegal lobbying activities, lots of his emails have been released to the press. And lo and behold, whose name turns up on some of those emails? Yours. James Dobson. Abramoff, as it turns out, is bragging about all the things James Dobson is going to do to fight this casino. Now, as it happened, what he bragged about and what he seemed to take credit for didn't happen because you weren't, actually, very involved in the Louisiana gambling fight against this casino. I was the main Focus representative, and the money we used to fight the casino was our own money. It didn't come from Abramoff, it didn't come from any gambling interest --

DOBSON: I never met the man. I didn't know who he was until he showed up in the news.

MINNERY: I've had so many reporters call me about Jack Abramoff, I finally called him and said, "Do we know you? Have you ever sent us money? Have you ever asked us to do any campaigning against Indian casinos anywhere?" He said, "No, I never asked you to do anything, I've never given you money, I've never called you, and I'm sorry you're mixed up in it." Well, of course, we seem to be mixed up in it because he's the one who bragged about the things we were already doing that he had nothing to do with.

In fact, when Abramoff learned in early 2002 that the Jena Choctaws had contracted the lobbying services of then-Washington super-lawyer Haley Barbour -- a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who is now the governor of Mississippi -- Reed responded to Abramoff's call for help to "get Dobson on the radio" to attack Barbour. In a February 6, 2002, email, Abramoff tells Reed, "Let me know when Dobson hits him [Barbour]. I want to savor it." That same day, in an email titled "Ralph and Dobson," Abramoff declared to Scanlon, "He [Reed] got to Dobson who is going to mail Louisiana and get on the radio!"

On February 19, 2002, Reed received a direct request from Abramoff. "Can we get Dobson on the air?" Abramoff asked. Reed responded that same day in an email, "yes. We're negotiating that now." In a follow-up email that day, Reed told Abramoff, "called Dobson this a.m." The following day, Abramoff wrote to Scanlon: "He [Reed] wants a budget for radio in the state. I'm inclined to say yes, so we can get this Dobson ad up. He asked for $150K. We'll play it in WH [the White House] and Interior." Later that day, Abramoff was jubilant. "He [Reed] may have finally scored for us!" he wrote to Scanlon. "Dobson goes up on the radio next week." On February 26, Abramoff asked Reed, "where are we with Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, etc.? we need to see some action in D.C. That's what I sold them for $100K."

Minnery told World Magazine that he was "98 percent sure" Focus on the Family never produced a radio ad on the casino issue, but that that the organization did produce radio "drop-ins" on the subject -- non-commercial, short spots incorporated into Dobson's daily radio show.

Minnery's assertion that "trusted allies" in Louisiana such as Perkins brought Focus into the campaign against the Jena Choctaw casino -- and not Reed and Abramoff -- is also misleading, since emails between Abramoff and Reed reveal Perkins working closely with Reed on gambling issues. In addition to his 2002 letter to Norton in opposition to the Jena Choctaw casino, Perkins solicited Reed's help during a 2001 campaign to block a bill in the Louisiana legislature which would have harmed Abramoff's clients by allowing slot machines at race tracks in Orleans Parish. In a June 4, 2001, email from Reed to Abramoff, Reed wrote, "Tony Perkins had requested money last month to kill this bill."

World Magazine is a conservative Christian weekly publication edited by Marvin Olasky, an author, syndicated columnist, and University of Texas journalism professor who has served as an adviser to President Bush and is credited with developing the "compassionate conservative" concept that Bush popularized during the 2000 presidential election.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Show/Publication
Focus on the Family
Stories/Interests
Religion, Religious Broadcasting, Abramoff Scandal
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