Lobbyists Screw Choctaws' Jena Band

Is it me or is this Déjà vu? One would think the Native Americans would have learned you can’t trust ‘em.

The Interior Department's former No. 2 official denied on Wednesday that he gave preferential treatment to a lobbyist under investigation for his work on behalf of Indian tribes and their casino interests.

Steven Griles' assertion was challenged by a one-time colleague and by senators who cited e-mails by the lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

To the Senate committee investigating Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, Griles said it was "outrageous" and "untrue" that they had special access to him, as they claim.

But Michael Rossetti, a former legal counselor to Interior Secretary Gail Norton, told senators he was "alarmed" when Griles "all of a sudden had an inexplicable desire to be involved" in meetings with Norton dealing with the Jena Band of Choctaw tribe's effort to open a casino near the Texas-Louisiana border.

"Repeatedly on at least half a dozen occasions, he insisted on being in on meetings" affecting the Jena Band, Rossetti said.

Griles resigned in December as the department's deputy secretary.

Rossetti described an exchange in front of at least two witnesses in which he challenged Griles on "whose water he was carrying on this issue."

Abramoff and Scanlon were hired as lobbyists by the Louisiana Coushatta tribe to work against efforts by the rival Jena Band of Choctaws to open a casino that could compete with the Coushatta's gambling operation near Lake Charles, La.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is investigating Abramoff and Scanlon and the more than $80 million they were paid between 2001 and 2004 by six Indian tribes with casinos, including the Coushattas.