By LIZ RUSKIN
Anchorage Daily News
January 26, 2006
The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported Wednesday that Young sought to intervene "on behalf of American Indian tribe clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff" in the lease of a historic building in downtown Washington.
Young and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, wrote identical letters in September 2002 to the head of the General Services Administration asking that the federal agency give priority to certain disadvantaged businesses when the GSA considered development options for the Old Post Office Pavilion.
The property is at the center of felony charges against former GSA chief of staff David Safavian. Safavian is accused of lying to federal investigators. He allegedly denied that Abramoff had any business before the GSA in the summer of 2002, when the two were arranging for Safavian to join Abramoff and others on a trip by chartered jet to Scotland.
According to FBI documents supporting the charges, Safavian assisted Abramoff in his plans for the Old Post Office, which ultimately went nowhere. In July 2002, Abramoff emailed Safavian a draft letter to the GSA that was purportedly going to be signed by two or more members of Congress on the issue of business preferences in bidding for the Post Office lease.
"Does this work, or do you want it to be longer?" Abramoff asked Safavian in the e-mail, according to the FBI document.
A few days later, Safavian forwarded to Abramoff an e-mail describing opposition from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
"I suspect we'll end up having to bring some Hill pressure to bear on OMB," Safavian wrote.
In August 2002, Abramoff took Safavian along on a $150,000 golfing junket to Scotland.
The lawmakers' letters - the first sent Sept. 5, 2002, by LaTourette alone, the second sent a week later and signed by both he and Young - do not mention any specific bidders or proposals. Rather, they advocate on behalf of businesses eligible for the HUBzone priority program. The HUB in the program's name stands for Historically Underutilized Business. Indian tribes like the ones Abramoff represented are one type of business that is eligible for the program, but contractors from certain urban and rural areas can also qualify.
It's unclear whether the draft letter Abramoff sent Safavian in July bears much of a resemblance to the letters LaTourette and Young sent the GSA in September, except that they both requested special consideration for HUBzone businesses.
Young's chief of staff, Michael Anderson, told Roll Call that Young didn't recall the origins of his to letter to the GSA. He called it coincidence that Abramoff and Young were both seeking HUBZone preferences on the Old Post Office project.
Anderson had no comment Wednesday, except to tell the Daily News that Young has been an advocate for Native American issues since his earliest days in public office. He also said it is not unusual for members of Young's committee to ask him to support them on an issue by signing a letter, and Young does sign such letters when he agrees with the content.
Young is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over GSA's management of federal buildings. LaTourette is one of his subcommittee chairmen.
Abramoff, once one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists, is cooperating with federal prosecutors as they seek to expand their investigation, and rumors abound about who may be indicted next.
His Indian tribe clients made more than $3 million in political contributions since 1998, giving heavily to lawmakers' campaigns and their leadership political action committees. At least one tribe wrote its checks at Abramoff's specific direction, according to the accounts of tribal leaders.
Abramoff's clients gave Young about $20,000, most of it to his leadership PAC, according to a database of the Center for Responsive Politics. Young also enjoyed the use of Abramoff's skybox at Washington's MCI Center for political fund raisers during professional hockey games.
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