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Ex-Official: Abramoff Overcharged for Lobbying

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty yesterday to a second set of felony charges. This announcement came a day after Abramoff pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy, fraud and corruption charges. Many of those charges stem from his dealings with American Indian tribes who were his clients. To learn more about the connections between the Washington lobbyist and the tribes represented, we've called Kevin Gover. He's a former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

Good morning.

Mr. KEVIN GOVER (Former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs): Good morning.

INSKEEP: And I understand you've worked closely with a number of Indian tribes in the past, although you're not directly involved in this case. Can you help us understand the facts here, the basic facts?

Mr. GOVER: Sure.

INSKEEP: Abramoff and a former associate are accused of defrauding Indian tribes of millions of dollars. What exactly is known about what he did?

Mr. GOVER: Well, he did a couple of things. First was just the amount that he was charging for the services rendered, and I think that he probably overpromised and underdelivered, in that respect. More troubling, though, was his relationship with this Michael Scanlon where he would persuade a tribe to hire Scanlon. Scanlon would then charge enormous fees and split those fees with Abramoff.

INSKEEP: And we're talking about millions or even tens of millions of dollars here.

Mr. GOVER: Tens of millions--$82 million I guess these guys bilked the tribes.

INSKEEP: And what did the tribes get in return?

Mr. GOVER: Well, you know, they got some good lobbying, frankly, probably not $82 million worth, but obviously Jack Abramoff was well-connected, particularly with Republican leadership on the Hill, and was able to accomplish some things.

INSKEEP: Accomplish some things?

Mr. GOVER: Yeah, I mean, he was able to shake out some federal appropriations for some of his clients, for example. He was a participant in a couple of key votes regarding Indian gaming, taxation of Indian gaming and Internet gaming, and was able to deliver some votes there, as well.

INSKEEP: Why did the Indian tribes seem willing to pay so very much?

Mr. GOVER: Well, a couple of things. First, they didn't know any better, in my opinion. That's way too much to pay any lobbyist. No lobbyist is worth that kind of money. And, second--and, again, in my opinion, they got greedy. They got greedy for money. They tried to prevent competition with their casinos, and they got greedy for power, which is not unknown in Washington.

INSKEEP: They ended up competing against each other, didn't they?

Mr. GOVER: Yeah. They really set out--and Abramoff's specialty was--seemed to be to keep other tribes out of the gaming business on the behalf of tribes that already had well-established casinos.

INSKEEP: Basically saying, `If you pay me, I'll make sure that you don't have a lot of competition for your casino.'

Mr. GOVER: That's exactly what he was doing.

INSKEEP: What have the Indian tribes--what kind of response have the Indian tribes had to his guilty plea?

Mr. GOVER: Well, I couldn't speak for all the tribes, of course, but I think everybody thinks that it's appropriate, certainly, that he was a scoundrel, and he's admitted to being a scoundrel. I think also that the tribes are beginning to examine their own practices and say, `Hey, do we really want to be getting in bed with guys like this? What are we doing with the success that we've accomplished?' And, `How are we going to use the new influence that we've acquired?' So it's, you know, a good time for tribes to sit back and think about those things.

INSKEEP: Do the tribes still have a lot of lobbyists, even with Abramoff out of the picture?

Mr. GOVER: You know, the tribes have always had lobbyists and I was a tribal lobbyist myself. I never had the temerity to charge in a year what Abramoff charged in a week. But the tribes have always had that kind of representation. What's happened now, though, is they have new political influence they've never had before and, let's face it, it's because they now have some money that they never had before, and the question is: Are tribes going to behave the way other special interests do?

INSKEEP: Mr. Gover, thanks very much.

Mr. GOVER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Kevin Gover is a former assistant secretary for Indian affairs and he teaches law at Arizona State University.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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