Russert cited flawed AP report in linking Reid to Abramoff

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

On Meet the Press, Tim Russert cited a flawed AP article, which omitted key facts that undermined its suggested connection between Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in order to link Reid to "money from Jack Abramoff."

On the May 7 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert cited a flawed Associated Press article published February 9 in order to link Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) to "money from [disgraced former lobbyist] Jack Abramoff." After quoting the article, Russert said to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA): "You get your money -- both parties get their money from lobbyists." The AP article Russert cited, however, omitted key facts that undermined its suggested connection between Reid and Abramoff.

From the May 7 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: But wait, wait a minute. What about the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid, in terms of money from Jack Abramoff?

PELOSI: What about him?

RUSSERT: Well, let me show you. This is the Associated Press: "Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid portrays convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's activities as involving only Republicans. But Abramoff's billing records and congressional correspondence tell a different story. They show Abramoff's lobbying team billed for nearly two dozen contacts with Reid's office in a single year. ... He wrote four letters to the Bush administration helpful to Indian tribes Abramoff represented, often collecting donations from Abramoff-related sources. In the midst of the contacts, Abramoff's firm hired one of Reid's top legislative aides to lobby for the tribal and Marianas clients. The aide then helped throw a fund-raiser for Reid at Abramoff's office." Here's the numbers in terms of lobbyist contributions: from 2004 to 2006, lobbyists gave Republicans $20 million dollars, Democrats 17.8.

PELOSI: Yeah.

RUSSERT: You get your money -- both parties get their money from lobbyists.

PELOSI: Well, let me say this: Our party is standing for honest leadership and open government. We will turn the most corrupt Congress in history to the most honest and open Congress -- and maybe it'll take a woman to clean up the house. Maybe that's what we'll have to have.

The AP article noted that Reid opposed legislation to approve a Michigan casino for an American Indian tribe that would have rivaled a casino owned by a tribe represented by Abramoff, and suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff to oppose legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff. But, as Media Matters for America documented, the AP left out key facts that undermined its reporting: Reid said at the time that he opposed the legislation approving the Michigan casino because it would create a "very dangerous precedent" for the spread of off-reservation gambling -- something Reid had opposed for nearly a decade; and Reid was a co-sponsor of the minimum wage legislation and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage.

A February 13 Roll Call article provided additional details that further undermined the AP's report:

Reid's effort to counter the allegations got an assist late Friday when one of the key players in the AP story, lobbyist Ronald Platt, denied a central allegation in the story - that he lobbied Reid and his top staffers in 2001 on a minimum wage bill opposed by Abramoff that would have hurt one of his clients, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

"I did a new colleague a favor by simply asking Reid staffers about when the minimum wage legislation affecting the Mariana Islands would be voted upon by the Senate. I communicated this to Abramoff. At no time did I ever lobby or advocate on this issue or for this Abramoff client," Platt said in a statement released Friday, accusing the AP of not calling him for comment before posting the story.

Platt, in an interview with Roll Call, insisted that he was in no way part of what became known as "Team Abramoff," the group of lobbyists, mostly ex-staffers, that aggressively advocated for Abramoff's clients, including the CNMI and more than a half-dozen Indian tribes that operated casinos. Instead, Platt said about nine months after Abramoff came to Greenberg Traurig in 2001, the two had a "heated" dispute about the way Abramoff was doing business - what Platt called a "fairly significant discussion about the nature of life and stuff."

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
CNBC
Person
Tim Russert
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Abramoff Scandal
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