In Messages, Lobbyist Says DeLay Pressed for Donation </nyt_headline>
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - Newly disclosed e-mail messages from the lobbyist Jack Abramoff show that he told an Indian tribe client that he was being pressured by Representative Tom DeLay for a contribution for a $25,000-a-table Republican fund-raiser and that Mr. DeLay had personally phoned the lobbyist's office in search of the money.
The three-year-old messages suggest that the request was passed on to the tribe for payment within hours. They offer no evidence that Mr. DeLay, Republican of Texas, knew such a request for political money would be forwarded to Indian tribes and their gambling operations, and the messages from Mr. Abramoff's files suggest that he edited one e-mail message to exaggerate any contact with the lawmaker. Mr. DeLay's lawyer said Mr. DeLay never made the telephone call.
One e-mail message says that Mr. DeLay made an unusual personal call to Mr. Abramoff's office on July 17, 2002, to press for the contribution to the Republican fund-raiser, saying that he would call back and that he might see Mr. Abramoff that night at Signatures, a Washington restaurant that the lobbyist then owned.
Members of Congress commonly encourage lobbyists to make political contributions, and the contacts are legal so long as there is no promise of official acts in exchange for the money.
The e-mail messages, obtained by the Justice Department and Senate investigators and made available to The New York Times, are significant because they are the first evidence to demonstrate that Mr. Abramoff cited personal pressure from Mr. DeLay in trying to persuade Indian tribe clients to send political donations and other money to Washington. The government's scrutiny of ties between Mr. Abramoff and Mr. DeLay had previously focused on a series of lavish overseas trips taken by the lawmaker.
Mr. Abramoff's former lobbying partner pleaded guilty last month to conspiring with Mr. Abramoff to defraud Indian tribe clients out of millions of dollars in a conspiracy in which they also tried to corrupt members of Congress with gifts, including political donations, in exchange for official acts. Mr. Abramoff has not been charged in the case.
The newly disclosed e-mail messages are dated July 17, 2002. One was said to have been written by Mr. Abramoff's assistant, Holly Bowers, and described a phone call from Mr. DeLay "about the President's dinner contribution you owe," a reference to the 2002 President's Dinner, a major Republican fund-raiser held in June, a month before the e-mail message. "It was the Congressman himself," the message said of the call. "Needless to say, I was a bit nervous."
According to the e-mail message, which Mr. Abramoff edited and then passed along that same day to the Tigua Indian tribe of El Paso, Mr. DeLay said he would "call you again this afternoon or possibly see you at Signatures tonight."
A lawyer for Mr. DeLay, Richard Cullen, said in an interview that the lawmaker had never made such a call to Mr. Abramoff's office and that Mr. DeLay's legal team had obtained an e-mail message written later in the day by the lobbyist that showed that details in the earlier message had been falsified.
In that three-sentence e-mail message, Mr. Abramoff wrote to Ms. Bowers: "I played with your email a bit (quite a bit) to scare the Tiguas into getting me that check. I hope you don't mind. I wanted you to see this in the unlikely case that they call and mention it to you."
The later e-mail message does not make clear what Mr. Abramoff changed in Ms. Bowers's message. Mr. Cullen said he obtained the message from a source he would not identify. Mr. Cullen relayed the content of the e-mail message to The Times; its authenticity was separately confirmed by a person familiar with the e-mail messages who declined to be identified by name, citing grand jury secrecy.
Mr. Abramoff's former lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, declined to comment and would not allow Ms. Bowers, who now works in the firm's New York public relations office, to answer questions. Through his lawyers, Mr. Abramoff also had no comment.
A database of Indian tribal political contributions organized by PoliticalMoneyLine, a research group, shows that the Tiguas did not contribute to the 2002 President's Dinner, although another of Mr. Abramoff's clients, the Mississippi Choctaws, made a $25,000 donation to the event. News reports at the time said that Mr. DeLay and other members of the House Congressional leadership were each expected to raise at least $500,000 for the dinner.
Mr. Abramoff's voluminous e-mail traffic is at the heart of a growing Justice Department investigation into whether his lobbying team corrupted members of Congress and other public officials in seeking favors for Indian tribe clients and their gambling operations.
His former partner, Michael Scanlon, who had been Mr. DeLay's press secretary in the House, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to corrupt public officials and to defraud the Indian tribes, including the Tiguas, who paid the two men $4.2 million.
There was no suggestion in the plea agreement that Mr. DeLay was under scrutiny in his case, although the Justice Department had previously signaled that it was studying Mr. DeLay's ties to Mr. Abramoff, including the propriety of a lavish trip to Britain in 2000 that the lobbyist organized for the congressman and his wife. Mr. DeLay is under indictment in Texas on unrelated charges of money-laundering involving corporate political donations.
Asked why Mr. Abramoff might invoke Mr. DeLay's name in raising money without the lawmaker's knowledge or permission, Mr. Cullen said, "The e-mail speaks for itself," referring to the message in which Mr. Abramoff acknowledged rewriting Ms. Bowers's message. "I wouldn't characterize the e-mail beyond this," he said. "Tom DeLay did not make that call."
It was not the first time that Mr. Abramoff had gone to the Tiguas to raise money on behalf of lawmakers.
A similar, previously disclosed e-mail message from Mr. Abramoff's files shows that he solicited $50,000 from the Tiguas in June 2002, only weeks earlier, to pay for what he described as a golf excursion to Scotland for another Republican lawmaker, later identified by the Tiguas as Representative Bob Ney of Ohio.
Mr. Ney, who has been subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating Mr. Abramoff, had insisted that he had no knowledge that Indian tribes had been approached to pay for his trip to Britain. The Tiguas arranged for another tribe to underwrite the trip.
The e-mail traffic appears to have begun with a message from Ms. Bowers to Mr. Abramoff, who then forwarded an edited version of it to the Tiguas' spokesman, Marc Schwartz, a political consultant in El Paso.
According to the version Mr. Abramoff sent the tribe, the subject line of Ms. Bowers's e-mail message was: "Cong DeLay called for you this morning."
It continued: "I tried to reach your cell but could not get you. It was the Congressman himself, and not Maryellen or Dan. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. Anyway, he was very nice, but said that he needs to speak with you about the President's dinner contribution you owe. I am not sure which this is, since I thought we sent in the Choctaw check already. He will try to call you again this afternoon or possibly see you at Signatures tonight. Thanks."
The "Choctaw check" appears to refer to the $25,000 contribution by the casino-rich Mississippi tribe to the organizers of the dinner, which was held on June 19, 2002, at the Washington convention center and featured a speech by President Bush. The event raised nearly $30 million. "Maryellen or Dan" appears to refer to members of Mr. DeLay's staff.
Attached to the e-mail message was a brief note from Mr. Abramoff to Mr. Schwartz: "Marc, I am about to be embarrassed. Please, please, please come back to me on the three things which are outstanding. I will call you."
In an interview, Mr. Schwartz said the e-mail message was one of several efforts by Mr. Abramoff to coerce the tribe into making political donations to Mr. DeLay and other lawmakers. He said the lobbyist frequently boasted of his close ties to Mr. DeLay, who had once publicly described Mr. Abramoff as among his "closest and dearest friends."
The e-mail message, he said, "was part of a continuing request from Mr. Abramoff for additional funds that came at various times throughout the first year that we were working for him." He would not say if the tribe sent any money to Washington in response to the July 17, 2002, e-mail message.
"I would prefer not to get into the specifics until the Justice Department has completed its investigation," Mr. Schwartz said.