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Norquist, Abramoff and Reed first worked together in 1981 as members of the college Republicans organizing protests against communism in Poland. From there, the three rose steadily to the tops of their fields. Reed, as leader of the Christian Coalition, built a national grass-roots following of religious activists. Abramoff tapped into massive casino profits by representing newly rich tribes. And Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), established himself as the high priest of tax cuts.
According to the e-mail trail, Reed and Norquist contacted Abramoff separately in 1999 to say they wanted to do business. Norquist complained about a "$75K hole in my budget from last year." Reed, who left the Christian Coalition in 1997 to found a political consultancy, said he was counting on Abramoff "to help me with some contacts." As it turned out, Abramoff needed them too. In 2000 Alabama was considering establishing a state lottery, which would compete with the casino business of the Mississippi band of Choctaws, an Abramoff client. Norquist and Reed were well positioned to help. "ATR was opposed to a government-run lottery for the same reason we're opposed to government-run steel mills," Norquist told TIME. Reed publicly opposed gambling. It wouldn't do to have casino owners directly funding an antigambling campaign. So Abramoff arranged for the Choctaws to give ATR $1.15 million in installments. Norquist agreed to pass the money on to the Alabama Christian Coalition and another Alabama antigambling group, both of which Reed was mobilizing for the fight against the lottery. Reed knew the real source of the money was the casino-rich Choctaws. The antigambling groups say they didn't.
On Feb. 7, 2000, Abramoff warned Reed that the initial payment for antilottery radio spots and mailings would be less than Reed thought. "I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter," Abramoff wrote. The transfer was apparently lighter than even Abramoff expected. In a note to himself on Feb. 22, Abramoff wrote, "Grover kept another $25K!" Norquist says he had permission. He says a Choctaw representative--he can't remember who-- instructed him on two occasions to keep $25,000 of the money for his group.
Abramoff's spokesman released a statement last week saying that with an investigation ongoing, "Mr. Abramoff is put into the impossible position of not being able to defend himself in the public arena until the proper authorities have had a chance to review all accusations." Norquist says he believes the direction of the Indian Affairs Committee's probe is being driven by an old rivalry between him and the committee chairman, Republican Senator John McCain. "This is completely political," Norquist says. McCain said last week's hearings sought to uncover fraud against the Choctaws, not investigate Norquist or Reed.