April 18, 2005
Is there a Cornyn connection to Abramoff?

The Star Telegram reports on another potential casualty of the Abramoff casino scandal: Senator John Cornyn, from his time as Texas' Attorney General.

The closing of the Speaking Rock Casino near El Paso in February 2002 was one of John Cornyn's proudest moments as Texas attorney general.

His determination to shut down the Tigua Indian tribe's casino because it was opened in violation of state law earned the Texas Republican kudos and pledges of support from Christian political organizers -- backing that proved helpful as Cornyn made his successful run for the U.S. Senate that year.


The shuttering of the Speaking Rock Casino is being explored by investigators for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, as well as a federal multi-agency task force and grand jury that are examining the actions of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations associate Mike Scanlon.

Abramoff and Scanlon had many Indian gaming clients, including the Tigua Ysleta de Sur Pueblo, as the Tigua are known. The lobbyists are at the center of a fraud and fundraising scandal that has embroiled DeLay.

Cornyn, elected senator in 2002, was supported in his anti-Speaking Rock effort by a grassroots campaign led by conservative Christian lobbyist Ralph Reed, who organized pastors around the state to oppose gaming and back the attorney general.

Senate investigators discovered that Abramoff hired Reed to block gaming expansion in Texas and Louisiana -- and that the $4 million that Reed was paid actually came from Abramoff's Indian gaming clients.

Then, Abramoff and Scanlon secured the Tigua as a client on the day the casino was closed and charged them $4.2 million for a campaign to reopen it through federal legislation.

In an interview, Cornyn said he was "unaware" of Reed's role in Texas although he knew Reed from GOP political circles.

"I, of course, had filed the lawsuit earlier on. That was already a done deal," Cornyn said. "It was nice to receive that support, but it didn't have much to do with what we were already doing."

Cornyn's office filed the lawsuit, charging the tribe with violating the anti-gambling terms of a law giving them federal recognition, in September 1999.

"I never met with him," Cornyn said of Reed, dismissing e-mail traffic in 2001 and 2002 between Reed and Abramoff that suggests a close alliance with the Texas attorney general during the lengthy court decisions and appeals.

"I'm sure my name has been taken in vain before, so I'm not surprised," said the Texas senator. "Maybe lobbyists were engaged in self-promotion. I was doing my duty to enforce the law."


Asked about Abramoff's alleged double-dealings with the Tigua, Cornyn said, "Without prejudging, I find it somewhat disturbing."

In a series of e-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Cornyn's name appears numerous times in communications among Reed, Abramoff and Scanlon. As a result, he has drawn some criticism.

"Cornyn is getting a pass that he doesn't deserve," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, referring to the lack of attention to the senator's involvement.

"My concern is that he's working with Ralph Reed, who's being paid by Indian gaming interests," Sloan said.

On Nov. 12, 2001, Abramoff and Reed discussed strategy for supporting Cornyn. Reed writes Abramoff: "Great work. Get me details so I can alert Cornyn and let him know what we are doing to help him."

Cornyn said he had no contact with Reed.

Is there anything to this? Maybe. I don't know. If there is, I'm sure it will come out - Abramoff and Scanlon weren't exactly discreet with the email. I do know this: Cornyn won't be the last Republican officeholder implicated by this. These guys were everywhere, they gave money to everyone, and they freely traded on who they knew and who they could introduce you to. Maybe they did that without the knowledge and express written consent of some of those associates. I seriously doubt they were all that far off in thinking that all of them would have taken their calls and done their favors, however.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 18, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

The NYT article on Ralph Reed today mentions Cornyn too.

Posted by: hope on April 18, 2005 8:53 AM

Cornyn's hands are VERY dirty here. Those of us in Texas who watched him as Texas AG and GWB as governor saw the Tigua lawsuit for exactly what it was: to gain GWB and Cornyn support from Far Right Christian wackos in this state. Now that the Abramoff connection has become well-known, it fits that they were after larger GOP financial support for GWB's run for the presidency as well as Cornyn's later run for Senate.

Posted by: ME on September 29, 2005 12:24 PM