Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Abramoff - Heir of the Reagan Revolution

The Washington Post has a in-depth profile of Jack Abramoff in its Thursday edition. The piece starts with Abramoff's beginnings taking over what was the sleepy backwater College Republicans and ends with his legal machinations to cut a plea bargain deal with federal investigators.

Jack Abramoff's story is the story of the Republican Party.
All of this corruption is a reflection of the corruption of men like Grove Norquist, Karl Rove, Tom Delay, Dick Cheney and, ultimately, George W. Bush. Abramoff did not operate in a vacuum. He was very public player with intimate contacts at the top levels of the Republican Party.

"A quarter of a century ago, Abramoff and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist were fellow Young Turks of the Reagan revolution. They organized Massachusetts college campuses in the 1980 election -- Abramoff while he was an undergraduate at Brandeis and Norquist at Harvard Business School -- to help Reagan pull an upset in the state.

They moved to Washington, maneuvered to take over the College Republicans -- at the time a sleepy establishment organization -- and transformed it into a right-wing activist group. They were joined by Ralph Reed, an ambitious Georgian whose later Christian conversion would fuel his rise to national political prominence."

Can you think of two creeper people to hang out with? Grover and Ralph. The yin and yang of corruption, with a right wing religious twist.

"Shortly thereafter, Abramoff was running Citizens for America, a conservative grass-roots group founded by drug-store magnate Lewis E. Lehrman. Abramoff was in frequent contact with Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the Reagan White House's Iran-contra mastermind, about grass-roots efforts to lobby Congress for the Nicaraguan contras, according to records in the National Security Archive.

One of Abramoff's most audacious adventures involved Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader who had U.S. support but was later found to have ordered the murders of his movement's representative to the United States and that man's relatives. With Savimbi, Abramoff organized a "convention" of anticommunist guerrillas from Laos, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in a remote part of Angola. Afterward, Lehrman fired Abramoff amid a dispute about the handling of the group's $3 million budget.

Abramoff also worked on behalf of the apartheid South African government, which secretly paid $1.5 million a year to the International Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group that Abramoff operated out of a townhouse in the 1980s, according to sworn testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission."

Ollie North, Jonaas Savimbi and apartheid. Talk about a trifecta!

"When Republicans wrested control of the House from the Democrats in 1994, Abramoff turned his focus back to Washington politics. With Norquist's help, he reinvented himself as a Republican lobbyist on heavily Democratic K Street. Norquist was one of the intellectual architects of the Republican Revolution and a muse for its leader, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), soon to be speaker of the House...

Soon the younger Abramoff developed a key alliance with Rep. Tom DeLay, a conservative Republican from Texas who was working his way up in the House leadership. The two met at a DeLay fundraiser on Capitol Hill in 1995, according to a former senior DeLay aide. The aide recalled that Edwin A. Buckham, then DeLay's chief of staff, told his boss: "We really need to work with Abramoff; he is going to be an important lobbyist and fundraiser."

His new best friend - Tom Delay. I hope, Tom isn't listening to any more advice from Buckham. Of course, Ed has his lobbyist shop now.

"Team Abramoff included former staffers to DeLay, as well as to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), head of the Senate Appropriations panel's Interior subcommittee; Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee; Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), who has served on the key House committee that oversees tribes; and Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), now minority leader."

What a team. Let's play a game. Pick the next member of the team to be indicted.

"The Choctaws were one of a half-dozen Indian tribes who gave more than $80 million dollars to Abramoff between 2000 and 2003. Not only were the tribes paying Abramoff's lobbying firm, they were also paying Abramoff's secret outside partner, Michael Scanlon, who charged the Indians millions of dollars for public relations work and split the money with Abramoff. Scanlon's public relations fees did not have to be disclosed under lobbying rules, thus making it possible for the magnitude of their take from the tribes to be kept from public view. The two dubbed their scheme "Gimme Five," according to e-mails in which Abramoff disparaged their clients as "morons" and "troglodytes."

E-mails show that Abramoff put his money into an array of political and personal projects.

The nonprofit Capital Athletic Foundation, for example, allowed him to schmooze with Washington's movers and shakers at charity affairs. He put a congressional spouse -- Julie Doolittle, wife of the California lawmaker -- on his payroll to plan at least one event. The congressman's office has said that there was no connection between his wife's work and official acts.

The foundation was ostensibly created to help inner-city children through organized sports. There is no evidence money went to city kids, but the foundation did fund some of Abramoff's pet projects: a sniper school for Israelis in the West Bank, a golf trip to Scotland for Ohio congressman Ney and others, and a Jewish religious academy in Columbia that Abramoff founded and where he sent his children to be educated."

Enter the infamous, Julie Doolittle and her amazing fund raise ability, soon to be put to work for her husband, Representative John Doolittle (CA-4) at 15 cents on the dollar.

"Alan K. Simpson (R), the former Wyoming senator who was in Washington during the last big congressional scandal -- the Abscam FBI sting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which six House members and one senator were convicted -- said the Abramoff case looks bigger. Simpson said he recently rode in a plane with one of Abramoff's attorneys, who told him: "There are going to be guys in your former line of work who are going to be taken down."

Dozens of lawmakers -- who were showered with trips, sports and concert tickets, drinks and dinners -- are returning campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients and calling him a fraud and a crook.

Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards (Okla.), usually a defender of lobbying and Congress, said there have always been members who get caught "stuffing money in their pants." But he said this is different -- a "disgusting" and disturbingly broad scandal driven by lobbyists whose attitude seemed to be "government to the highest bidder."

"This is at a scale that is really shocking," said Edwards, who teaches public and international affairs at Princeton. "There is a certain kind of arrogance that in the past you might not have had. They were so supremely confident that there didn't seem to be any kind of moral compass here."

Let's see pay-to-play, "government to the highest bidder," lack of a moral compass. Sounds like the Republican Party to me. No wonder they all loved this guy so much. Until he got caught.