A November 29 Associated Press article by John Solomon and Sharon Theimer omitted a key claim by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) that could undermine allegations that he received a political contribution arranged by lobbyist Jack Abramoff "shortly after" writing a letter in support of a tribal school program that would benefit the American Indian tribes that Abramoff represented. On November 28, Dorgan released a written statement in response to these allegations, in which he cited "written evidence" demonstrating that he had supported the program in August 2001, seven months before he received a $5,000 contribution to his political group, the Great Plains Leadership Fund, in March 2002.
Additionally, as the weblog Daily Kos noted November 29, AP's report that the contribution to Dorgan was "arranged" by Abramoff relied not on evidence arising from the Senate or Justice Department investigations into Abramoff but, rather, on the word of a lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians who has significant Republican ties the AP article did not mention.
The article noted that Dorgan received a $5,000 check from the Louisiana Coushatta Indians "just three weeks" after he wrote a February 2002 letter "urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund the tribal school building program" desired by the Coushatta and other tribal Abramoff clients. Although the Coushatta Indians are in Louisiana -- not Dorgan's home state of North Dakota -- the proposed program, as a federally funded appropriation, would likely benefit American Indian tribes across the country. The AP noted that Dorgan said he supported the program because he "believed tribes in his state might benefit" from it and that, in Dorgan's words, it "saves the federal government money and gets results."
But in reporting that Dorgan received the contribution from the Coushatta Indians "shortly after" writing to the Senate Appropriations Committee in February 2002, the AP failed to mention Dorgan's claim that he had initially expressed support for the program much earlier -- in August 2001.
Dorgan's November 28 statement was a response to a November 25 AP article -- also written by Solomon and Theimer -- that Dorgan deemed "inaccurate" for linking the political contribution he received from the Coushatta Indians and the tribal school program he had supported. In his response, Dorgan stated that he initially supported the program "in a letter to the Chairman of the Wahpeton-Sisseton Indian Tribe" that he wrote "six months earlier" than the February 2002 letter cited by the AP. He also argued that he had supported the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota when they applied for funding under the program in 2001. From Dorgan's press release:
The weekend headline story suggested I signed a letter in support of the "Cost Share Indian School Construction Program" as a favor to Abramoff, a man I had never met, in exchange for political contributions. The letter the reporter referred to was dated February 2002.
In fact I had always supported that program. For example in August of 2001, six months earlier, I had already pledged my strong support for this program in a letter to the Chairman of the Wahpeton-Sisseton Indian Tribe. The Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota had also applied for school funding through that program in 2001. And I supported their efforts.
So, if the written evidence shows that I supported the program the year before the letter this reporter used to justify his story, my support for this program clearly cannot be connected to this lobbyist, his client's interest in the Cost Share program, or campaign donations.
A principal difference between the November 25 and November 29 AP articles is that the latter cited a claim by Coushatta Indians attorney Jimmy Faircloth Jr. (who was misidentified as "Jimmy Fairchild") that the Coushatta tribe's contribution to Dorgan was "arranged" by Abramoff. Abramoff, a GOP lobbyist, is currently the subject of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department as well as an inquiry by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Yet the November 29 AP article made no mention of Faircloth's partisan Republican ties. As Daily Kos noted, Faircloth has made significant political contributions to Republican candidates, including to President George W. Bush, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), and Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a former gubernatorial candidate. According to a January 16, 2003, report by the Daily Town Talk (Alexandria, LA), Faircloth's name was submitted by Louisiana Republicans to President Bush for consideration as a U.S. district court nominee.