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An e-mail trail of money and influence

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It's D.C. as it is, a Vanity Fair of skyboxes, name-dropping, and $130 Sushi Taro lunches. Few lobbyists have their own restaurant, as Abramoff did. But many might relate to that twinge of panic when it's the end of the month, and the checks don't seem to be rolling in.

"Our pool is getting shallow - we need to reload my man!" Scanlon e-mailed Abramoff in September 2002.

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Let's start with what might be called The Great Circle of Influence. It's a basic procedure whereby lobbyists obtain access for their clients, and it's well illustrated by the connections that occurred at the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) dinner on Sept. 24, 2001.

There's no evidence that either the CREA group or any of its officials have done anything illegal in conjunction with Abramoff. Ms. Federici strongly defended her innocence in an appearance before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last November, saying she had been subject to Abramoff's manipulations.

But in 2001, with the Bush administration still new, Federici held a card of value: Top GOP officials would show up if she asked. Secretary Norton had helped found the group, and Mr. Griles was a friend. So both agreed to attend when Federici invited them to a fundraising dinner.

"Just heard back from Interior and the date for the dinner is Monday, September 24th," Federici e-mailed Abramoff in late August 2001. "Steve is personally inviting everyone from Interior and talking with them about the dinner so I expect a wonderful turnout ..."

Abramoff, for his part, controlled something that the GOP environmental group needed: cash. Most of his Indian tribe clients agreed to sign on as trustees of CREA, at a cost of $50,000 each. Among the perks for trustees was an invitation to the CREA dinner. And the Interior Department is where many issues important to Indian tribes, such as land use and casino policy, are decided.

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