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Ralph Reed didn't mention Jack Abramoff in his opening remarks to the Dawson County Republican Party in rural Dawsonville, Ga. But Guy Pichon had a tough question for the lobbyist and former head of the Christian Coalition: "Did you accept any gifts, commissions or other payments of any kind from Mr. Abramoff, and are you likely to be a party in the unfolding investigation?"
Mr. Reed responded to the question he vigorously avoids: "No . . . no to all of these." Mr. Reed's answer is puzzling considering his consulting work for Mr. Abramoff and his cooperation with federal officials in the ongoing investigation into Mr. Abramoff's fraudulent lobbying activities.
But Mr. Reed may soon have his own investigation to worry about. David Escamilla, a county attorney in Travis County, Texas, is contemplating opening a criminal investigation into Mr. Reed's anti-gambling work in Texas. Three government watchdog groups have asked for the investigation, saying Mr. Reed violated a Texas law requiring lobbyists to register with the state.
Mr. Reed worked with Mr. Abramoff on anti-gambling projects in Texas in 2001 and 2002 ("Houses of cards," Jan. 14). The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana hired Mr. Abramoff to protect its $300-million-a-year gambling business. Mr. Reed worked with Mr. Abramoff to urge Christians to oppose pro-gambling legislation and to close down an illegal casino in Texas, as part of an effort to protect the Coushattas.
The Texas groups claim Mr. Reed directly lobbied public officials and should have registered as a lobbyist. Mr. Escamilla told WORLD that he is still reviewing the claims and will decide how to proceed in February.
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Mr. Reed continues to create tension for other evangelical leaders. E-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee indicate Mr. Reed told Mr. Abramoff that he would solicit anti-gambling help from big-name evangelicals including James Dobson and Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family. Days later, each wrote letters to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, protesting the opening of a casino in Louisiana.
In a Feb. 6, 2001, e-mail, Mr. Abramoff asked whether Mr. Reed "can get Dobson on the radio" to criticize Republican Haley Barbour for supporting the new casino's opening. Mr. Reed replied: "yes. there's a history there." Mr. Abramoff replied: "Let me know when Dobson hits him. I want to savor it." On Feb. 19, Mr. Reed assured Mr. Abramoff: "we're negotiating that now. don't have a green light yet, but they are very interested."
Mr. Abramoff wrote to his business partner, Michael Scanlon, saying: "He [Reed] wants a budget for radio in the state. I'm inclined to say yes, so we can get this Dobson ad up. He asked for $150K. . . ." Six days later, Mr. Abramoff asked Mr. Reed: "where are we with Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, etc.? we need to see some action in D.C. That's what I sold them for $100K."
Tom Minnery, a senior vice president at Focus on the Family, told WORLD it's possible Mr. Reed asked Mr. Dobson to write a letter to Gale Norton, but he said Mr. Reed did not ask Focus on the Family to produce a radio ad in Louisiana. He added that he was "98 percent sure" Focus never produced a radio ad on the issue, though he was still searching his records at press time. He said Focus did produce radio "drop-ins" on the subject-non-commercial, short spots incorporated into Mr. Dobson's daily show. Mr. Minnery said Focus had never taken money from Mr. Reed or Mr. Abramoff.
Mr. Minnery responded to the e-mails about Mr. Dobson by speculating that "it sounds like these guys were trying to take credit" for work Focus was already doing. He said Focus on the Family works on dozens of similar issues across the country each year, and that the organization had not become "an unwilling dupe of Jack Abramoff." Though Mr. Minnery said Mr. Reed "did the wrong thing by taking gambling money to fight gambling," he declined to comment specifically on Mr. Reed's participation in the e-mails about Mr. Dobson.
When asked if he found Mr. Reed's participation troubling, Mr. Minnery responded: "I'm not going to say any more about it."