T Nation

Abramof the Villain


#1

This is a good piece from(gasp!)CBS news. Covers what a sleazball Abramof is along with a very short history of other assorted sleazballs,both democrat and Republican. Abramof truly is a sleaze and conservatives with hopes of winning anything would do well to distance themselves from this guy.

Best line from this piece: washington is hollywood for ugly people

21st Century Sleaze

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2006
(CBS) This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.

As a political consumer, you are being told that there are three reasons to care about the many scandals of Jack Abramoff. First, many members of Congress could get in trouble, some could be indicted, Tom DeLay may never lead again and the Republicans may lose seats in the mid-term elections. Second, the scandals show once and for all just how reptilian Washington is. Third, these scandals could lead to meaningful reforms that could profoundly alter politics.

I don't think these are great reasons to care.

Yes, it may come to pass that a slew of politicians could get in trouble and there's even a chance you will have actually heard of a few of them; when that happens, I urge you to pay attention. Similarly, this could influence elections some day. I urge you to vote.

Next, it is almost always a historical mistake to think that government institutions or their governors are more corrupt, ignorant, devious, incompetent, malicious or venal in the present than they ever have been before. Plenty of cads from the history books can give Abramoff and slugs who took his bribes a run for their dirty money. The reptilian quotient in American politics doesn't vary hugely over time.

Finally, as you may suspect, I am confident this scandal will not lead to meaningful reform. It may well lead to cosmetic and trivial legislation. Meaningful reform would mean reinventing the appropriations process, financing campaigns publicly, extending House terms from two years to four years and perhaps FCC regulation of the media. I don't see any of that happening.

All that being said, there is fun to be had and enlightenment to be gained from the Abramoff story. I suggest focusing on these few themes and Big Ideas.

Corruption's Consequences

Washington scandals can change history. They have in modern times. But it's hard to predict what has legs and what doesn't.

Watergate, of course, brought down a Republican president and installed a Democrat, but only for one term. It also brought a new generation of Democrats into Congress and they continued Democratic control of the House for another generation. When the Democrats finally lost the House in 1994, scandal played a big role. But it was a long series of scandals, years of it, which did the damage: Jim Wright, Tony Coelho, Dan Rostenkowski, and the House Post Office. The Republican's spiritual leader of those years, Newt Gingrich, was an insistent, relentless scandalmonger. (Ironically, a scandal forced Gingrich from office. Ironically, Gingrich is leading the current call for Republicans to dump DeLay and clean house.)

Other scandals, even big ones, have not had big effects on elections or even careers. Senator Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick provide one rather striking example. Iran-Contra provides another; it was a huge, year-of-headlines story and yet the Republicans held the White House and soon captured Congress.

Are Congressional Republicans now in a cycle of corruption, as the Democrats hope and pray? So far we have Tom DeLay's troubles, Duke Cunningham's fall, the Abramoff case and stories about Bill Frist, which frankly strikes me as without merit thus far. I'm not in the prediction business, but nothing leads me to think this series of Washington stories matters much to voters in a time of war, of a new kind of domestic security fear, of massive technological change and of economic insecurity.

What's helpful for political consumers, I think, is to think about the daily stories about the Abramoffs and DeLays of the world in this context of election cycles and what issues matter more.
Even if the Abramoff Indian-financed bribery spree does not change the patterns of U.S. history, it is political larceny with dollar amounts that are huge by Washington standards, though they wouldn't buy a decent rigged securities analysis on Wall Street.

The size and audacity of the Abramoff conspiracy was made possible only by an explicit and premeditated program initiated by Tom DeLay to strong-arm companies into hiring Republican lobbyists and, logic concludes, to strong-arm Republican members into accommodating Republican lobbyists. It was called the K Street Project. As the conservative writer David Brooks writes, with the Abramoff scandal, "the real problem wasn't DeLay, it was DeLayism, the whole culture that merged K Street with the Hill, and held that raising money is the most important way to contribute to the team." That is what made Abramoff possible. That is why this is a Republican scandal, even though he tried to bribe Democrats too.

Another small point: Congress is held is low public esteem right now ? low, not the lowest ever. Few members have real power any more; power in Congress entails either expertise or seniority and with each passing year, fewer and fewer members are interested in acquiring those assets. So generally, House members and, to a lesser degree, Senators, don't have power, social prestige or money. That's partly why it's so easy to bribe them with skybox seats and fancy golf trips.

The Clucks Guarding the Hen House

One aspect of the anemic anti-corruption apparatus supposedly in place in Congress that really has broken down is the ethics committees. The way Congress spends and budgets taxpayers' money that includes earmarks and pork ensures that the opportunity to steal will always be immense. The standard disincentive is getting caught. While Congressional ethics committees were never Scotland Yard, they did have recent periods of effectiveness. The Senate Ethics committee under Warren Rudman and the late Howell Heflin initiated investigations that led to the fall of Senator David Durenberger, and they led the long inquiry into the Keating Five. In recent years, these committees have atrophied.

For the political consumer, this means giving up any notion that Congress can police itself. It can't. And it can't reform itself. This is a bipartisan truth. But Republicans right now seem to be in a deeper level of fantasyland. It is bizarre that they are letting DeLay try to stay in power. It is weird that they think simply giving back Abramoff's dirty contributions will make their problems go away. These are stark symbols that there is no honor code in Congress, even though there probably is one in your kid's high school.

The Villain

Jack Abramoff is an epic villain, absolutely as sleazy as they get and scandal connoisseurs should savor this.

To his guilty plea in Washington, he wore a scary black fedora. (Where could he have gotten it? eBay, searching "fedora, black, gestapo.") He claims to be an orthodox Jew, so maybe he was trying to be Hasidic. But to his Florida plea, he wore a baseball cap.

The man ripped off Indians, one of the most downtrodden people in the country. He conned the Washington media too. In 2000, the Washington publication most expert in covering lobbying, the National Journal, ran a puff piece that quoted Abramoff as saying, "We love the Choctaw here. The tribe is a wonderful client, and it really bothers me to see them have to spend so much money here."

Six months later, he e-mailed his partner in crime about one of his Indian clients, "Can you smell money??!?!?!" A year after that, Abramoff mailed the same guy that he had "to meet with the monkeys from the Choctaw tribal council."

Washington may be Hollywood for ugly people, but this guy is a big screen crook.


#2

Great article, flamer.

But as a card carrying member of the official GWB cheer leading squad, I didn't think you were allowed to quote - or even read for that matter - CBS News.


#3

I'll be disappointed if the general public will be satisfied with...

Hmm, okay, maybe the general public will accept whatever the media says when "action has been taken" and discussed by the talking heads.

Perhaps folks with a bit of a deeper understanding of the issues should push a bit harder to get as much change as possible?

I mean, this corruption is a complete perversion of what your representatives are supposed to be doing on your behalf.


#4

It does appear that there are alot of dems with dirty hands as well. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I'm not saying that Abromof isn't real damn dirty, I'm just saying that there are alot of Dems mixes up in this as well. I wonder if these dems intend on giving this money back. Hmmmmmm

Forty of forty five members of the Democrat Senate Caucus took money from Jack Abramoff, his associates, and Indian tribe clients. Below is a breakdown of how much each Democrat Senator received:

Max Baucus(D-MT)
Received At Least $22,500

Evan Bayh(D-IN)
Received At Least $6,500

Joseph Biden (D-DE)
Received At Least $1,250

Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Received At Least $2,000

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Received At Least $20,250

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Received At Least $21,765

Tom Carper (D-DE)
Received At Least $7,500

Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
Received At Least $12,950

Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Received At Least $8,000

Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
Received At Least $7,500

Chris Dodd (D-CT)
Received At Least $14,792

Byron Dorgan(D-ND)
Received At Least $79,300

Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Received At Least $14,000

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Received At Least $2,000

Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Received At Least $1,250

Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Received At Least $45,750

Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Received At Least $9,000

Jim Jeffords (I-VT)
Received At Least $2,000

Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Received At Least $14,250

Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Received At Least $3,300

John Kerry (D-MA)
Received At Least $98,550

Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Received At Least $28,000

Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Received At Least $4,000

Carl Levin (D-MI)
Received At Least $6,000

Joe Lieberman (D-CT)
Received At Least $29,830

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Received At Least $14,891

Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Received At Least $10,550

Patty Murray (D-WA)
Received At Least $78,991

Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Received At Least $20,168

Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Received At Least $5,200

Barack Obama (D-IL)
Received At Least $7,500

Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Received At Least $2,300

Jack Reed (D-RI)
Received At Least $3,500

Harry Reid (D-NV)
Received At Least $68,941

John Rockefeller (D-WV)
Received At Least $4,000

Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO)
Received At Least $4,500

Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)
Received At Least $4,300

Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Received At Least $29,550

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Received At Least $6,250

Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Received At Least $6,250


#5

What do you want changed, exactly? The guy got caught. And evidently his dealings weren't exclusively a right wing affair.

A free and open society is going to have its fair share of corruption. To make such a huge deal of this and cry for reform is a bit over the top. The system worked to catch this guy. Leave it alone.


#6

Excellent point RJ, which is evedent in how many Dems were caught up in this along with Abromof. The system is working, the question will be in how many give the money back. As of now it's not looking like too many of them are.


#7

How about we get right to the REAL SCANDAL. Wait let me guess -- all coincidence right?

Lawmaker's Abramoff Ties Investigated
As federal officials pursue a wide-ranging investigation into the activities of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his arrest on fraud charges in the purchase of a Florida casino boat company has increasingly focused attention on a little-known congressman from rural Ohio.

Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff's 2000 purchase of the casino boat company, SunCruz Casinos.

Ney approved a 2002 license for an Israeli telecommunications company to install antennas for the House. The company [Foxcom] later paid Abramoff $280,000 for lobbying. It also donated $50,000 to a charity that Abramoff sometimes used to secretly pay for some of his lobbying activities.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/17/AR2005101701918_pf.html

U.S. Police and Intelligence Hit by Spy Network
The U.S. law enforcement wiretaps, authorized by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), appear to have been breached by organized crime units working inside Israel and the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/12/18/224826.shtml

The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff
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.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/28/AR2005122801588_pf.html

Feds probing SunCruz links to GOP
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/front/13260001.htm

Untangling a Lobbyist's Stake in a Casino Fleet
With Millions of Dollars Unaccounted for, Another Federal Investigation Targets Abramoff

It was a gangland-style hit straight out of "Goodfellas."

Not long after Abramoff and his partners bought SunCruz Casinos in September 2000, the venture ran aground after a fistfight between two of the owners, allegations of mob influence, dueling lawsuits and, finally, Boulis's death on Feb. 6, 2001. Now, Abramoff is the target of a federal investigation into whether the casino ship deal involved bank fraud. According to court records, the SunCruz purchase hinged on a fake wire transfer for $23 million intended to persuade lenders to provide financing to Abramoff's group.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/30/AR2005043001147_pf.html

Three charged in gangland-style murder of Suncruz founder 'Gus' Boulis
FORT LAUDERDALE -- Perhaps solving one of South Florida's most notorious crimes, police arrested three men Tuesday in the 2001 ambush slaying of Konstaninos Gus'' Boulis -- a murder that happened a few months after Boulis sold a fleet of casino boats to prominent Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a partner.
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/southflorida/sfl-927boulismurder,0,6594337.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

SunCruz Casinos turns over documents in terrorist probe
TAMPA, Fla. - SunCruz Casinos has turned over photographs and other documents to FBI investigators after employees said they recognized some of the men suspected in the terrorist attacks as customers.

Michael Hlavsa, chairman of the gambling cruise company, said Wednesday two or three men linked to the Sept. 11 hijackings may have been customers on a ship that sailed from Madeira Beach on Florida's gulf coast.
http://www.casinowatch.org/terrorists/terrorists_at_casinos.html

Cause it's common knowledge devout, suicidal Muslims LOVE to party and gamble....


#8

Ho-leeeeeeee crap JTF - just when I think that you can't do any worse, you go and prove me wrong.

And what's wrong with funding all the Israeli sniper schools we can anyhow? I say the more the merrier.


#9

Man, and you think I'm wacky?

The fact that you see nothing odd with a right-wing Republican lobbyist funding an Israeli sniper school with donated money that people thought was going toward a charity for children just proves how the extreme right sees criminality as business as usual.

Imagine if there was no opposition -- do you have a line you wouldn't cross? Obviously not.


#10

Well OBVIOUSLY my imagination is not nearly what yours is. That's the trouble with living in reality - there's not much time for such active imaginations as yours.

As long as the Israeli snipers are zeroed in on islamo-facists, who am I to stand in the way of progress?


#11

Grab some popcorn and enjoy the GOP flame out.

Disgraced Congressman 'Wore a Wire'
Jan. 06, 2006
Sources tell TIME that in a separate investigation, ex-Rep. Cunningham wore a wire to help investigators gather evidence against others just before copping his own plea.
http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1146700,00.html


#12

I didn't point the issue at the right. I suggested reform. There is a huge difference. Stop pushing your partisan cheerleading viewpoint in my direction for chrissakes.

So, you don't think any reform is needed, that things should continue business as usual, such that money changes hands with a wink and a nod, and from time to time, if things go extremely over the bend and someone gets killed in a casino deal, we'll might just clue in and look at everything more closely?

Okay, if that's really the way you want your government to run, good for you. Somehow, and I could be wrong, but it seems that corruption and the negative influence it has on government can't be helpful.

Woohoo, trust the system... it's perfect, don't bother reforming it. I'm shaking my head. Are you taking that viewpoint simply because it is opposite of mine or what?

I mean, am I the only one that has seen people in these forums, from BOTH sides of the political spectrum decrying the state of affairs in both political parties with respect to issues like this?


#13

Damn.

I heard his speech, when he fessed up, admitted his guilt and described how he would go through the rest of his life in various stages to deal with what he allowed to happen to himself.

It sounds like he was a damned good man that lost his moral convictions and rode the system, then found his morals again.

When he has done his time, paid his debt to society, if he does the things he said he would, I will have a lot of respect for the man. Not for screwing up, but for standing up and taking responsibility and doing his best to make things right.

I'm interested to see what, if anything, is in his future.


#14

Vroom-

I think what RJ was trying to say is that it'a little premature to start demanding reform since the justice system hasn't even finished it's job yet. It sounds like there'e alot to untangle here. I really hope ALL the crooks get nailed, and if they don't, then it's time for reform


#15

Where did I accuse you of pointing? I was merely trying to show how this corruption was NOT soley a right wing affair, and in fact was spread across party lines. But that would be hard for someone as 'objective" as you to grasp, huh?

What kindf of fucking reform do you think we need? More government is not the answer, dumbass. That is precisely what caused the problem in the first place.

And your solution is to make the beast bigger? How ignorant can you be in a single 24 hour period?

No one said it was perfect. Please show me where I said that, or apologize for being a liar. See - this is precisely why no one on here sees you as the objective thinker that you od. If anyone dares disagree with you, you put words in their mouths so you can argue with that instead of reality.

I said the system worked and there is no need to go tearing into it with a monkey wrench because a bad thing happened. You don't even have a fucking clue as to where to start reforming. But your first reaciton is to create more government to deal with the solution. I call bullshit on that stupid idea for being nothing more than a knee jerk reaction.

Well creating more government won't fix the fucking problem. Geez.


#16

Dumbass? Ignorant?

Okay, I don't know where you get the idea that I want a bigger government. I think this is your own comic book belief of folks that have a left viewpoint. It isn't my stance.

Correct me if I am wrong, but there is already a lot of rules and regulations in place concering these issues. Is that what you are referring to? Is this what you deem as increasing the size of government?

Not entitlements, not health care, not education, not homeland security, not infrastructure projects, but rules attempting to control corruption in government?

This is where the problem of a growing government resides?

LOL!


#17

Nice try. But you can't be half as stupid as you are acting presently. Name a 'reform' that has ever been passed that has not resulted in more beauracracy. More red-tape = more gov't.= bigger gov't.

But that is typical of knee jerk reactionaries. You are as myopic as you are overzealous.


#18

What makes you think this is connected? Cunningham plead guilty to essentially taking improper payments from defense contractors. Unless there's some connection here of which I'm unaware, this is completely unrelated to the Abramoff fiasco.


#19

Rainjack,

I've been discussing that there is too much monied influence on politicians for quite a while now.

You can accuse me of many things, but I've been arguing for reform before the shit hit the fan... so nice try on the kneejerk baloney.

Anyway, I suggest you are possibly on the wrong side of this issue.

The precise place that it does make sense to allow there to be rules and red tape is when it confines the government and how it operates, not the general public itself.

However, I disagree that this represents big growth in government. Growth in government and government spending is not going to be centered around reforms and controls designed to help avoid corruption and undue influence on politicians and the political process.

I think perhaps your concern stems from the fact that conservatives generally are able to raise more money than are their democratic counterparts?

If so, I don't blame you for liking the status quo in that respect, but I think that even many republicans will be calling for reforms... or losing their upcoming elections.


#20

You should read today's WSJ article by Michael Barone - it's good stuff.

Here are a few key paragraphs:

[i]The Washington lobbying community goes back a long way. The First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging . . . the right of the people . . . to petition the Government for a redress of grievances": Lobbyists, like the clergy and the press, are a profession protected by the Constitution. You can bet there have been lobbyists working Washington since the days when Daniel Webster pocketed retainers from the Second Bank of the United States and Stephen Douglas sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act -- which led proximately to the Civil War -- as part of his project to anchor the transcontinental railroad in Chicago. When government makes decisions that affect private individuals and firms and industries, the representatives of those individuals and firms and industries are going to exercise their constitutional right to try to get the decisions to come out their way.

Government is especially likely to make such decisions in time of war. During World War I, when Woodrow Wilson's government nationalized the railroads and seized control of the shipping industry, a Chicago lawyer named Edward Burling moved down to Washington to become chief counsel of the Shipping Board. He made the observation that there was business to be had in litigating wartime claims and joined former Maryland Congressman and Judge Harry Covington to form the firm of Covington & Burling. Today C&B is one of many large Washington law firms, with distinguished lawyers who will surely tell you that they don't do any lobbying -- and they certainly don't do the kind of things Jack Abramoff did. But they do on occasion try to affect government decisions, whether by administrative agencies, administration officials or Congress. And why shouldn't they? It's a perfectly legitimate business.[/i]

and

[i]And then there is Jack Abramoff. A close associate of Messrs. DeLay and Norquist and a longtime Republican activist, he seems to have been determined to make gigantic sums of money. Not content with the $1 million or so a year he could easily have made, he squeezed Indian tribes for tens of millions (Indian gambling laws have created a class of naive clients) and engaged in some very shady dealings in the gambling cruise ship business. There will always be such individuals: Abe Fortas, a lawyer of the highest intellectual caliber, was not content with a Supreme Court justice's salary and arranged for outside income from a former client, the disclosure of which led him to resign from the court. There is a fine and sometimes indistinct line between bribery, which requires a specific quid pro quo, and legal mutually beneficial conduct.

Mr. Abramoff's guilty pleas have both parties scampering to offer up lobbying reform; as fervent a Republican as he was, he made sure his clients gave money to Democrats too. His testimony could end the careers of some members of Congress and could threaten the Republicans' House majority. But there will be no end to lobbying: It is protected by the Constitution, and people will always seek to affect the decisions of a government that can have such great impact on them.

Over the last 35 years, I have watched as more and more office buildings have been going up in Washington. K Street, the prime market for my Almanac, has been spreading -- metastasizing, some would say -- and for every new 1,000 square feet some calculable number of my books will be sold. None of these buildings will be torn down, except to be replaced by new buildings with ever gaudier marble lobbies, even if Jack Abramoff resides for a time in public housing. The poor we may or may not always have with us. But we will always have K Street.[/i]

As I said, if you want to "reform" lobbying, reduce the power of government over businesses (and reduce its power generally over things that have nothing to do with its core functions: defense, courts, policing).