The Abramoff corruption probe has already snared one GOP Congressman, Bob Ney, and implicated a few more, most prominently Rep. John Doolittle of California. But could there be another to add to the list: Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico?
An examination by TPMmuckraker of the indictment of former Jack Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, filed yesterday, suggests that Wilson’s office was tied in to Abramoff’s corruption network at a level not previously known. And John McCain’s 2005 investigation into Abramoff’s fleecing of Indian tribes, which McCain conducted as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, made no mention of that fact.
The Ring indictment contains the following statements from prosecutors:
On or about January 30, 2003, a lobbyist at Firm B emailed a staffer for the New Mexico tribe’s U.S. Representative, “Sorry I couldn’t hangout last night. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to han[g]out with the [New Mexico tribe]. It meant a lot to [K]evin and I [sic]. BTW, you should be all set for the [Los Angeles] Clippers [basketball] game.”
On or about February 14, 2003, a lobbyist at Firm B forwarded an email from the staffer for the New Mexico tribe’s U.S. Representative to defendant RING in which the staffer had written, “How did Kevin’ s meetings with the [New Mexico tribe] go? If you guys lose that contract I would be disappointed.”
On or about March 4, 2003, a lobbyist at Firm B emailed defendant RING, “I’m going to kill [the New Mexico tribe] with [its U.S. Representative] if we don’t get hired.”
On or about March 7, 2003, a lobbyist at Firm B emailed defendant RING, “[ The staffer for the New Mexico tribe’ s U.S. Representative] is going to be in the meeting with [the New Mexico tribe] when they come to town. He’s going to give the ‘are you guys staying with [Firm B] this cycle? They did a great job on . . . legislation . . . and really cleared the path for you guys . . . . . yadda yadda.’ He’s gonna gather as much intel as possible for us.”
It’s clear from identifying details in the indictment — which refers to a New Mexico Indian tribe that hired Abramoff’s firm, Greenberg Traurig around March 2002 — that the tribe is the Sandia Pueblo Indians, who are represented in Congress by Wilson. So in other words, a staffer for Wilson was actively involved in helping Ring and Greenberg Traurig (Firm B, where Ring worked at the time), retain their contract to represent the Sandia Indians. And Ring’s Greenberg partner — most likely Abramoff himself, but certainly a member of Abramoff’s team at Greenberg — believed he had the power to affect decisions made by Rep. Wilson concerning the tribe’s interests.
A spokesman for Rep. Wilson declined to comment on the information in the indictment.
We already knew that Wilson had accepted political contributions from both Abramoff himself and David Safavian, a former Abramoff crony and Bush administration official convicted for obstruction of justice as part of the Abramoff probe. But the information in the indictment suggests that her office worked with Abramoff more closely that has yet been reported.
Wilson has been a stalwart supporter and prominent surrogate for John McCain, painting him as a crusader against Washington corruption. Just last night, she appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball to make the case for him, and last week she told NPR: “John McCain has chosen a reformer … to be his running mate and I think that’s a perfect complement to who he is and what he’s done in his life.”
Wilson may have good reason to hold the GOP nominee in high regard. In his 2005 Senate investigation, McCain had access to the Greenberg Traurig email trove, presumably including the ones cited by prosecutors in the Ring indictment highlighted above. But his final report generally avoided focusing on members of Congress, and omitted any mention of Wilson.