Saturday, February 11, 2006

Great Senator, Barbara Boxer, says...

From :

I recently joined Senators Kerry and Lautenberg in introducingan amendment to focus the Senate’s attention on the reports ofpublic corruption involving Jack Abramoff, including his tiesto the White House. I am happy to share with you the statementI made on the floor of the Senate in support of our amendment.
Barbara Boxer
United States Senate

Mrs. BOXER. Madam President, I rise now to discuss an amendmenton behalf of myself and Senators Kerry and Lautenberg which expresses the sense of the Senate that the White House should provide the public with a thorough account of the meetings that the President, his staff, and senior executive branch officials held with Jack Abramoff . The public's confidence in the government has been rocked by the widespread reports of public corruption involving Jack Abramoff.

On January 3, Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion, charges that carry up to a 30-year sentence. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation of a number of public officials, and we don't know where all this will lead. I urge the Justice Department to continue its investigation into any bribery and corruption.

The damage to the public trust from the Abramoff scandal, combined with the recent prosecution of Congressman RandyCunningham and the indictment of Congressman Tom Delay, is massive. The investigation by the Department of Justice has really just begun. But right now, sadly, there is a very low opinion of politicians, and trust must be restored with the American people. We cannot govern effectively without the support and confidence of the people. We are supposed to be their representatives. We owe them everything, and we must start with honesty, with ethics, so we can regain their trust.If the people have lost confidence, we have to win it back.

Every Senator I know has searched his or her records for contributions from Jack Abramoff, from his associates and the tribes he represented. Each of us has responded in our own way. But to my knowledge, we have all made our actions public. We have told our constituents what the situation is and whether we plan to do something about it.

In the State of the Union Address, the President said: “Each of us has made a pledge to be worthy of public responsibility--and that is a pledge we must never forget, never dismiss, and never betray.”

Those are noble sentiments, very noble sentiments, and I challenge the President to live up to them. Where there is an appearance of impropriety, it is the responsibility of public officials to be open with the public and to clear up any questions that might exist. I know in my long career in elected life--and it is now more than 30 years of elected life--I have had to return contributions from time to time. I have tried to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. I have even recused myself on three occasions because I believed that was the right thing to do.

But no matter what each of us does, there will still be those who doubt us. It is the system. It is a system that is based on private financing, so it is verydifficult, with that system, to gain the trust of the people. But it starts with openness. It starts with transparency. We should each try to be as open as we can and make sure that, whatever we decide to do, the public is informed. It doesn't help to be secretive. It doesn't help to say: I don't have to do this; it is my right not to tell the public anything.

It maybe your right, but it does not make it right. According to the press secretary of the President, ScottMcClellan, the President does not know and doesn't remember ever meeting Jack Abramoff, and despite repeated requests the White House has failed to provide details of meetings between Jack Abramoff and the President and his staff. The problem is, more and more details keep coming out about the relationship between Mr. Abramoff and the President.

Starting in 1997, Mr. Abramoff claimed credit for procuring a letter from then-Governor Bush that praised the then-Northern Marianas Island Education Plan. In 2000, Jack Abramoff joined the Bush-Cheney transition team. Several colleagues of Mr.Abramoff ended up being appointed to key positions in the Department of Interior, the agency that regulates Indian gaming issues, central to Mr. Abramoff's lobbying business. According to the Associated Press, Jack Abramoff and his lobbying team had nearly 200 contacts with the Bush Administration in the first 10 months they were in office--200 contacts in less than a year, and nobody remembers anything?

I mean it doesn't pass the smell test.

By 2001, Mr. Abramoff appears to have been selling his clients access to the President. On May 9, 2001, the White House arranged an event on behalf of the group Americans for TaxReform. That group is a very strong ally of President Bush. The event was attended by the President and a number of legislators. There is a trail of documents that shows that Mr. Abramoff asked some of his clients for $25,000 to go to that event, with the funds going to this Americans for Tax Reform. I want to show you some e-mails because I think that tells the story better than anything.

So here is what Mr. Abramoff asked in an e-mail to a representative of one of his tribal clients. These are Mr. Abramoff's words from an e-mail: "Americans for Tax Reform is bringing together the speakers of all Republican-led legislatures for a meeting with Bush and the congressional leadership. They have requested sponsorship ($25K) from only four groups. Two of them will be major corporations and one will be Choctaw. Chief Martin will becoming to the event I expect. I told them that I would ask you guys to participate. The exposure would be incredible and would be very helpful. One of the things we need to do is get the leaders of the tribe (ideally the chief) in front of the President as much as possible. Please let me know as soon as you can. Thanks."

That is Mr. Abramoff to the representative of one of the tribes. Let us see what that particular individual wrote to her tribe after she received Mr. Abramoff's e-mail.

She wrote: "Attached is an e-mail from Jack Abramoff with the firm of Greenberg & Traurig. The chairman has agreed for the tribe to be one of the four sponsors of and participate in a White House event on behalf of the Americans for Tax Reform, which is being held on May, 9, 2001 in D.C. Please immediately prepare a check made payable to Americans for Tax Reform in the amount of $25,000 and forward it to my office by Federal Express. ThenFed/Ex the check to Mr. Abramoff."

Just to finish this story, here we have a copy of the check Mr. Abramoff received from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana in the amount of $25,000--selling the President of the United States and using Federal property.

The meeting was held in the Old Executive Office Building. In all, it appears that four or more of Abramoff's clients attended the event, and at least two claimed they paid the$25,000 requested. They paid that to get close to the President on Federal property. Jack Abramoff, as I said, delivered the President of the United States in exchange for his clients' contribution to the President's supporters.

How many more Abramoff clients attended is not clear, and who paid money to attend the White House event is not clear. The White House claims it has no record of Mr. Abramoff attending, but Time magazine claims there is a photo of the President standing with Abramoff and one of Abramoff's clients. This event alone warrants the President providing full disclosure of meetings with White House officials and JackAbramoff.

But this was not a one-time event. The following year, Mr.Abramoff solicited money from his clients for another White House event on behalf of Americans for Tax Reform.

The public has more and more questions about the relationship between Jack Abramoff , the President, and his staff, but no answers are forthcoming. The President's refusal to provide additional information about these meetings has increased the public's distrust in the administration and our government at large.

The President said some very noble words at the State of the Union Address. He said it was important for us to bring trust back. Yet we see no movement for transparency and openness. The public has a right to know whom Mr. Abramoff met with, what they discussed, and whether improprieties existed. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 76 percent said Bush should disclose his contacts with his aides and Mr. Abramoff . Two of three Republicans favored disclosure. Let me say that again. In the poll, two of three Republicans favored disclosure.

In fact, members of the President's own party in the Senate and in the House have urged the President to provide information to the public about this administration's dealings with Mr.Abramoff .

I agree with them. All Government officials who serve the public must take all steps necessary to maintain their trust and confidence. I hope my colleagues will support this important amendment which I plan to offer on behalf of Senator Kerry and SenatorLautenberg. It simply calls on the White House to immediately and publicly disclose each visit and meeting between JackAbramoff and the President, White House staff, or senior executive branch officials.

Much is made about how Senators get an opportunity to fight for funds for their State. Senator McCain has derided this action. Senator McCain said earmarks right on their face are wrong. If you look at the number of earmarks Members of the Senate are involved in for our States--I know my colleague and I sit on the Public Works Committee. I don't need any lobbyist to tell me that I need a road in my urban area when one is broken down. I don't need a lobbyist to tell me that I need an HOV lane or a new water system or a new sewer system or a new school or a new senior center. It is my job to know that. Senator McCain thinks that is all terrible.

But the bottom line is the number of earmarks pales in comparison with the amount of funds that are distributed by this administration and any subsequent or prior administration. They distribute most of the funds.

It is very important, as we all look at our campaign contributions, to sort out in any of them which are in any way tainted by Mr. Abramoff and that the White House comes to the table and is as open as we have been. I believe it is very important. This isn't a partisan issue. Republicans have been calling for the White House to come clean on this, and Democrats are doing the same.

If we are going to restore confidence in our government, it starts with simple openness--not with saying: Oh, this is privileged, this is secret. I will tell you right now, we all learned it from our moms and dads. When somebody says “this is secret,” watch out. Our government is supposed to be open, not secret. I hope there will be strong support for this particular amendment. I believe its timing is crucial. We can't let anymore time elapse. There are calls for--and I am joining them--a special prosecutor in this particular case. But even before that debate begins, let us have everyone come clean on these meetings, contributions, and the like.

I thank my colleague from Montana, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, for his generosity of spirit in allowing me to discuss this issue. Technically, of course, it isn't a matter of the Finance Committee jurisdiction, but I believe the timing is so important that we should have a vote on this.

Thank you very much. I yield back whatever time remains.


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