Alaska Rep. Don Young
he's "never had any personal or professional relationship with [Jack] Abramoff."
But that's a claim that gets harder to maintain by the day. Particularly today.
In February 1999, Rep. Young led a congressional delegation to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The trip was organized by Jack Abramoff.
Until now, Abramoff's representation of The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has gone almost completely unreported. On January 4th, 1999, the RMI hired Abramoff with a $50,000 retainer. Young led the trip the following month. The group arrived February 21st and left on the 22nd.
The trip was a so-called "CODEL", or Congressional Delegation, meaning that it was an official trip
by Members of Congress to a foreign country. But, according to a former Marshall Islands government official familiar with the trip and court documents filed in 2001, the trip was organized and arranged by Jack Abramoff.
Fred Wertheimer, President
of government watchdog group Democracy 21
, called Abramoff's managing of the trip "very unusual." In fact, he couldn't think of another example of it. "CODELS are government trips paid for by the government," said Wertheimer. "And it would seem to me to be highly inappropriate for a Washington lobbyist to arrange and schedule a government trip."
The former Marshall Islands government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told TPMmuckraker.com that after Abramoff was hired, he told RMI officials: "You need Congress to come out to the Marshall Islands. Let me see what I can do about that."
And Abramoff delivered. At least three Members of Congress and three non-voting delegates accompanied Young on the February 1999 trip.
According to Congressional travel records
filed by the House Committee on Resources, these included John Doolittle (R-CA) and Ken Calvert (R-CA), as well as Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), Bob Underwood (D-Guam), and Donna Christenson (D-Virgin Islands). Eight congressional staffers came along too. (The records do not show the cost of the taxpayer-funded trip.) Though not mentioned in congressional travel records, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was also part of the delegation, according to the former RMI official. (Rohrabacher's attendence was later confirmed by his spokesperson Rebecca Rudman.)
While over in the beautiful islands, Young's delegation visited the Kwajalein Atoll missile test site and attended a meeting of the parliament, during which a resolution was introduced to rename the test site after Ronald Reagan
. According to the former RMI official, Young addressed the assembly in Bermuda shorts.
Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum declined to comment. When contacted on Tuesday, the Marshall Islands' Ambassador to the U.S. Banny de Brum declined to answer any questions about Abramoff. Rep. Young's office failed to return a call requesting comment.
At the time of the trip, Rep. Young was Chairman of the House Resources Committee
, which handles issues pertaining to U.S. territories and freely-associated states
like the RMI. The revelation of the trip, however, comes at a difficult time for Young. Roll Call recently reported
that he wrote letters to the General Services Administration, allegedly on behalf of Abramoff's tribal clients. That, together with the fact that a former aide of his went to work for Abramoff, and that he's been on the side of a number of Abramoff's clients
, has kept the heat on. On Tuesday, in a guest editorial for The Anchorage Daily News
, he insisted: "I have never had any personal or professional relationship with Abramoff."
As for others on the trip, Doolittle has frequently been in the news
for his ties to Abramoff, and Rohrabacher and Abramoff are old friends
The RMI retained Abramoff while he was at Preston Gates, from January of 1999 through February 2000. A dispute over the final fee of roughly $500,000 eventually led Preston Gates to file a law suit against the RMI in September 2001.
In the suit, Preston Gates detailed their extensive services for the Republic of the RMI, and the firm's role in organizing the trip. Among them (emphasis added):
"Organizing a visit by a congressional delegation led by Representative Don Young (R-AK) to the RMI
. This included drafting all RMI statements and press releases, organizing the delegation's schedule
, drafting all of the RMI's official speeches, and coordinating the delegation's activities with the RMI military
Elizabeth Fleming, the attorney who filed the suit for Preston Gates, confirmed that Jack Abramoff was the Preston Gates lobbyist who worked on the account.
The suit for $433,369.19, the outstanding balance on the RMI's account, was ultimately settled out of court.
According to the Agreement that Preston Gates and the Marshalls signed, Abramoff was hired, among other reasons, to lobby the Congress and Administration on the islands' upcoming negotiations on the Compact of Free Association. The compact from 1986 - a massive financial settlement between the U.S. and the islands involving use of the missile site, grants, and a trust fund - was set to expire in 2001. After four years of negotiations, the two sides finally agreed
on a settlement in 2003. The grants and trust fund in the new agreement add up to more than $800 million.
Coming Soon: What other services Jack Abramoff provided for the Republic of the Marshall Islands.