One of Jack Abramoff's ex-colleagues confirmed Friday he contacted Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's office on behalf of the influential lobbyist but says Abramoff's billing records inflate the amount and extent of his work.
"When Abramoff first arrived at Greenberg Traurig, I did a new colleague a favor by simply asking Reid staffers about when the minimum wage legislation affecting the Mariana Islands would be voted upon by the Senate. I communicated this to Abramoff," Platt said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.
Ronald Platt, a lobbyist who worked with Abramoff at the Greenberg Traurig firm between 2001 and 2004, said he contacted Reid's office in 2001, as the billing records show, about the timing of minimum wage legislation affecting Abramoff's Northern Mariana Islands client.
AP reported Thursday that lobbying firm billing records obtained under public records law from the Northern Mariana Islands showed Abramoff billed the islands for 21 contacts in 2001 with Reid's office.
The records listed the minimum wage as the issue and Platt as the point of contact for most of those contacts. Platt had formally registered with the Senate in 2001 to lobby for the Marianas as well as some Abramoff tribal clients.
Reid's office confirmed this week it had "routine contact" with Platt over the years on lobbying issues such as the Marianas, tribes and other issues but said it could not verify all the contacts listed in the billing records.
In his statement, Platt sought to minimize the extent of his lobbying of Reid's office on behalf of Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty in a fraud and bribery case.
"These contacts were incidental, insofar as I simply bumped into Reid staffers at Democratic Party functions or occurred incidental to discussions regarding my clients, not Abramoff's," Platt said. "Any contacts that I may have had in regards to Abramoff's tribal clients would have been similarly incidental."
As for the 21 contacts listed in the billing records, Platt noted Abramoff has pleaded guilty to defrauding clients and said the references in the AP story were inaccurate. He was not more specific.
Audits of Abramoff's work for the Marianas during the 1990s, when he worked for the Preston Gates lobbying firm, concluded more than $1 million in expenses could not be substantiated.
However, the 2001 Marianas billing records cited by AP were similarly audited and the island's government raised no concerns. In fact, the island's auditor concluded Greenberg Traurig had provided "more lobbyist services ... in terms of time spent" for less money than had been seen in earlier years.
Platt also said the AP did not attempt to reach him for comment before its story moved Thursday.
AP contacted Platt's new lobbying firm in late December seeking to interview him about the billing records and was referred to Greenberg Traurig.
Platt also did not return two phone messages Friday renewing a request for an interview, sending an e-mail statement instead.
Greenberg Traurig declined to comment. "Consistent with our ethical obligations to clients, our firm continues to cooperate fully with ongoing government investigations," the firm said.
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