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DeLay tied to Abramoff casino battle

In letter to AG, Texan pushed for its closure

WASHINGTON -- The former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, tried to pressure the Bush administration into shutting down an Indian-owned casino that Jack Abramoff, the now-discredited lobbyist, had wanted closed. This was shortly after a tribal client of Abramoff's donated to a DeLay political action committee, according to a letter received by the Associated Press.

DeLay, a Texas Republican, demanded closure of the casino, which is owned by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas, in a Dec. 11, 2001, letter to the attorney general at the time, John D. Ashcroft. The source who released the letter did not want to be identified because of a federal investigation of Abramoff and of several members of Congress.

''We feel that the Department of Justice needs to step in and investigate the inappropriate and illegal actions by the tribe, its financial backers, if any, and the casino equipment vendors," said the letter, which was also signed by three Texas Republicans, Representatives Pete Sessions, John Culberson, and Kevin Brady.

Sessions's committee received $6,500 from Abramoff's clients within three months after signing the letter. An aide to Sessions said he considered gaming to be a state issue. She said that the tribe had circumvented state law and that Sessions signed the letter in defense of laws.

Ashcroft did not take action on the request. The Texas casino was closed the following year by a federal court ruling in a 1999 lawsuit filed by the state's attorney general, John Cornyn, now a US senator.

Kevin Madden, a DeLay spokesman, said DeLay's actions had been ''based on policy considerations and their effect on his constituents." ''Mr. DeLay always makes decisions with the best interests of his constituents in mind," Madden said.

The letter was sent at least two weeks after the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, clients of Abramoff's, contributed $1,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority. That committee is at the center of the campaign finance investigation that yielded money-laundering charges against DeLay and that forced him temporarily out of the majority leader's job.

The letter also was sent to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, among other officials, including Governor Rick Perry of Texas.

Its author appears to have been unfamiliar with the Alabama-Coushatta.

It said the tribe was based in ''Livingstone" and had opened a casino ''against the wishes of the citizens of Alabama." The tribe's reservation is in Livingston, Texas.

At the time of the letter, Abramoff was working for the Louisiana Coushatta and had portrayed the Alabama-Coushatta's Houston-area casino as a threat to his client's casino.

The disclosure is occurring after DeLay said he has given up trying to regain the post of majority leader. DeLay had said until Saturday that he would reclaim the job after clearing his name in the campaign finance investigation.

DeLay is awaiting trial on charges he funneled corporate contributions, largely banned in Texas elections, through Texans for a Republican Majority and the Republican National Committee to the campaigns of several GOP state legislative candidates.

On Monday, an appeals court denied his request that the charges be dismissed.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians made the contribution to Texans for a Republican Majority on Nov. 28, 2001, according to court documents. A lawyer for the Choctaw declined comment.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to federal charges and is cooperating with investigators whose bribery probe is now focusing on members of Congress and aides.

Abramoff's former business partner, Michael Scanlon, DeLay's onetime press aide, also has pleaded guilty in the case.

The contributions are not necessarily illegal, but DeLay's association with Abramoff is under scrutiny. DeLay has taken trips paid for in part by Abramoff, and his national political action committee used skybox seats leased by Abramoff.

The Alabama-Coushatta were never clients of Abramoff or Scanlon, but Abramoff targeted the tribe in his work for the Louisiana Coushatta: first trying to shut down their casino, then trying to become a lobbyist for the Alabama-Coushatta.

According to court documents, Abramoff used the Alabama-Coushatta to carry out a bribery scheme.

Federal investigators have alleged that a man later identified as Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, agreed in June 2002 to introduce and pass a provision that would eliminate a ban against gaming for the Alabama-Coushatta ''at Abramoff's request." Abramoff pleaded guilty to telling Ney in June 2002 that the Tigua tribe of Texas was raising money for a Ney trip. The Tigua had turned down Abramoff's request for the money.

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