AP left out key facts in report linking Reid, Abramoff

A February 9 Associated Press story left out important details of two incidents that purportedly link Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In a February 9 article by staff writers John Solomon and Sharon Theimer, the Associated Press left out important details of two incidents that purportedly link Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The AP 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 article also 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 AP noted that Reid “went to the Senate floor” to thwart legislation that would have harmed the Saginaw Chippewa, a tribe represented by Abramoff, because he 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 1988, 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].

The AP also suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff regarding legislation to raise the minimum wage that would also have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, which Abramoff opposed. But the article never mentioned that Reid was a co-sponsor of the bill. The AP also failed to note what subsequent action Reid took on the legislation; in fact, Reid supported 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.

Moreover, the Abramoff aide that Reid met with to discuss the minimum wage bill in 2001, Ronald Platt, contends that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss Reid's position on the legislation. In response to the AP article, blogger Joshua Micah Marshall contacted Platt about 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.”

From the February 9 AP article:

Reid, D-Nev., has led the Democratic Party's attacks portraying Abramoff's lobbying and fundraising as a Republican scandal.

But Abramoff's records show his lobbying partners billed for nearly two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid's office in 2001 alone.

Most were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.


Reid himself, along his Senate counsel Jim Ryan, met with Abramoff deputy Ronald Platt on June 5, 2001, “to discuss timing on minimum wage bill” that affected the Marianas, according to a bill that Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's firm, sent the Marianas.

Three weeks before the meeting, Greenberg Traurig's political action committee donated $1,000 to Reid's Senate re-election committee. Three weeks after the meeting, Platt himself donated $1,000 to Reid.

Manley said Reid's official calendar doesn't list a meeting on June 5, 2001, with Platt, but he also said he couldn't say for sure the contact didn't occur. Manley confirmed Platt had regular contacts with Reid's office, calling them part of the “routine checking in” by lobbyists who work Capitol Hill.

As for the timing of donations, Manley said, “There is no connection. This is just a typical part of lawful fundraising.”

The Marianas, U.S. territorial islands in the Pacific Ocean, were one of Abramoff's highest-paying clients and were trying to keep their textile industry exempt from most U.S. laws on immigration, labor and pay, including the minimum wage. Many Democrats have long accused the islands of running garment sweatshops.

The islands in 2001 had their own minimum wage of $3.05 an hour, and were exempt from the U.S. minimum of $5.15.

Republicans were intent on protecting the Marianas' exemption. Democrats, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California, wanted the Marianas to be covered by the U.S. minimum and crafted a compromise.

In February 2001, Kennedy introduced a bill that would have raised the U.S. hourly minimum to $6.65 and would have covered the Marianas. The legislation, which eventually failed, would have given the islands an initial break by setting its minimum at just $3.55 -- nearly $3 lower than any other territory or state -- and then gradually increasing it.

Within a month, Platt began billing for routine contacts and meetings with Reid's staff, starting with a March 26, 2001, contact with Reid chief of staff Susan McCue to “discuss timing and status of minimum wage legislation,” the billing records say.

In all, Platt and a fellow lobbyist reported 21 contacts in 2001 with Reid's office, mostly with McCue and Ryan.

One of the Marianas contacts, listed for May 30, 2001, was with Edward Ayoob, Reid's legislative counsel. Within a year, Ayoob had left Reid's office to work for Abramoff's firm, registering specifically to lobby for the islands as well as several tribes. Manley confirmed Ayoob had subsequent lobbying contacts with Reid's office.