Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay tried to pressure the Bush administration into shutting down an Indian-owned casino that lobbyist Jack Abramoff wanted closed — shortly after a tribal client of Abramoff's donated to a DeLay political action committee, The Associated Press has learned.
The Texas Republican demanded closure of the casino, owned by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas, in a Dec. 11, 2001 letter to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. The Associated Press obtained the letter from a source who did not want to be identified because of an ongoing federal investigation of Abramoff and 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 Texas Republican Reps. Pete Sessions, John Culberson and Kevin Brady.
Sessions' political action committee received $6,500 from Abramoff's tribal clients within three months after signing the letter. A spokeswoman for Sessions said he considers gaming a state issue. She said the tribe was circumventing state law and Sessions signed the letter in defense of Texas laws.
Ashcroft never took 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 U.S. senator.
Kevin Madden, DeLay's spokesman, said DeLay's actions "were based on policy considerations and their effect on his constituents. Mr. DeLay always makes decisions with the best interests of his constituents in mind."
The letter was sent at least two weeks after the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a tribal client of Abramoff's, contributed $1,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC. That political action committee is at the center of the campaign finance investigation that yielded money laundering charges against DeLay and forced him temporarily out of the majority leader's job.
The letter also was sent to Interior Secretary Gale Norton; the U.S. attorney for Texas' eastern district; the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who took over when Mr. Bush was elected president.
Its author appears to have been unfamiliar with the Alabama-Coushatta. It said the tribe was based in "Livingstone," and that the tribe 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 revelation comes as DeLay has said he has given up trying to regain the majority leader post. DeLay had insisted 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 TRMPAC 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.
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