From David Whitney of The Sac Bee:
Abramoff had lost the commonwealth lobbying contract in 1998 and was campaigning in 1999 to get it back. Key to his strategy was Benigne Fitial, an Abramoff supporter and former commonwealth legislator who for the last decade had been vice president of Tan Holdings Group, operator of garment plants and the publisher of the Saipan Tribune, a commonwealth newspaper, according to published reports.
On Oct. 3, 1999, Doolittle received a $1,000 contribution from Abramoff, the first from the star lobbyist. Three weeks later, Doolittle wrote a letter to Fitial praising his entry into the commonwealth's legislature race and endorsing his election.
"I know that you are a legislator and businessman who cares deeply about the people of your community," Doolittle wrote. "Your hard work in previous legislatures has succeeded in improved relations with the U.S. government, and we need you in the House again to ensure continued success."
Doolittle's letter, complete with the disclaimer that it was paid for by the John T. Doolittle for Congress committee in Roseville, Calif., was published in the Saipan Tribune on Nov. 2, four days before Fitial was elected.
On Friday, Doolittle said he backed Fitial, now the commonwealth's governor, because "he was a pro-free-enterprise guy who was advocating for the best interests of the territory."
After Fitial's election, Abramoff turned his attention to getting Fitial elected speaker of the commonwealth House. He was considered the underdog in the race, trailing the front-runner by two votes, according to published reports.
According to the Los Angeles Times, two of Abramoff's associates, former DeLay aides Ed Buckham and Michael Scanlon, were dispatched to the Northern Marianas in December 1999 to persuade two legislators from Tinian and Rota islands to switch their votes and support Fitial, offering promises of federal money for their island communities.
A follow-up trip in January, when Fitial was elected speaker, was cited in Abramoff's agreement when he pleaded guilty to political corruption charges.
In July, Fitial pushed through the Marianas House legislation directing the government to hire Abramoff's firm, Preston Gates, as its lobbying firm, and the deal was accepted July 27.
Doolittle told the paper that none of his work for the islands had anything to do with Abramoff - despite the fact that billing records show him meeting with Abramoff's lobbyists several times a month in 2001.