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An e-mail trail of money and influence

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Not that the tribes paid quickly. A few days before the dinner, Federici asked Abramoff when some of that money might flow in, as she was trying to make some payments and budget for the next quarter.

"Hi Italia. Choctaw will come through with the $50K sometime next month (they are over budget for this fiscal year, which ends at the end of the month)," Abramoff replied in a Sept. 21 e-mail. "Kickapoo is going to give in two parts of $25K each, starting next month. Chitimacha has, I believe, already sent over some (was it $10K?) ...."

The dinner was a small one of 23 people, held in a private home near the Naval Observatory. Abramoff seemed happy afterward, as the invitation to his skybox shows. Federici replied a few days later - and asked again if the lobbyists could hurry along promised checks.

"Ahhh - the glamorous world of non-profit work - about one half step above beggar!" she concluded in an Oct. 4, 2001 e-mail to Abramoff.

In subsequent communications with Federici and others, Abramoff called CREA "our access to Norton" and talked about "our guy Steve." He bragged about quashing Interior Department policies that are against his client tribes' interests, and weighed in with his thoughts on who should get key Interior jobs.

But Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, chairman of the Indian Affairs committee, has said the panel has found no evidence that Norton was aware that Abramoff was invoking her name for gain. Griles has testified that he treated Abramoff no differently than other lobbyists.

And within the e-mail trail are hints that Abramoff didn't have quite the juice he claimed. He was taken by surprise when Norton named Aurene Martin acting head of Indian Affairs in January 2003 - just the sort of thing a well-connected lobbyist should know in advance.

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