Monday, May 02, 2005

Toward Tradition director Jack Abramoff writes re native American clients: "''These mofos are the stupidest idiots in the land for sure.''

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At 7:33 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/01/magazine/01ABRAMOFF.html?hp

A Lobbyist in Full
By MICHAEL CROWLEY
Published: May 1, 2005

Can you smell money?!?!?!'' Jack Abramoff wrote.

It was December 2001, and he was a kingpin of Republican Washington, one of the city's richest and best-connected lobbyists. His former personal assistant had gone to work for Karl Rove, the new president's top political adviser; he was close friends with the powerful Republican congressman from Texas, Tom DeLay, a relationship most of his competitors would kill to boast of. He was making millions on fees of up to $750 per hour; he was the proprietor of two city restaurants; and he was even a man of good works -- a charitable giver and the founder of a private religious school in the Maryland suburbs. Dressed in expensive suits, he moved around the capital in a BMW outfitted with a computer screen, often headed to one of the countless fund-raisers he gave for Republican congressmen and senators at Redskins and Orioles and Wizards games in his private sky boxes. Jack Abramoff was a man in full.

But he was still expanding. The scent of money was coming from the Saginaw Chippewa, the owners of the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort -- a $400-million-a-year enterprise in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Abramoff and his informal business partner, Michael Scanlon, an independent public-relations consultant who had been a spokesman in DeLay's Congressional office, had begun to specialize in representing Indian tribes with casino operations. They hoped for a contract with this tribe.

''Did we win it?'' Scanlon wrote back.

''The [expletive] troglodytes didn't vote on you today,'' Abramoff responded.

''What's a troglodyte?'' Scanlon asked. (In his early 30's, he had much to learn from his master.)

''What am I, a dictionary? :) It's a lower form of existence, basically,'' Abramoff wrote. ''I like these guys,'' he hastened to add, yet then continued: ''They are plain stupid. . . . Morons.'' Ultimately, the lower life forms would pay Abramoff and Scanlon $14 million -- just a fraction of the $66 million the two men's businesses would take in from six different Indian tribes over the next three years. (Abramoff would offer his lobbying services to tribes at relatively modest rates, but then tell them that they couldn't afford not to hire Scanlon, who charged astronomical amounts for his P.R. services and then subcontracted much of the work at budget rates; he also supposedly kicked back millions to Abramoff.)

By last September, however, the ride was over. That's when dozens of Abramoff's ''Sopranos''-like e-mail messages were released at a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The e-mail messages, seized from Abramoff's computer, told a story of front groups, secret kickbacks, manipulated tribal elections and political payoffs. ''What sets this tale apart, what makes it truly extraordinary, is the extent and degree of the apparent exploitation and deceit,'' an outraged John McCain said at the hearing. ''Even in this town, where huge sums are routinely paid as the price of political access, the figures are astonishing.''

Nearly as shocking as the sums was the coarseness of the e-mail messages, especially given that Abramoff was a devout Orthodox Jew who presented himself publicly as a man of conservative values. About one tribal client Abramoff had written to Scanlon, ''These mofos are the stupidest idiots in the land for sure.'' In another e-mail message he wrote, ''we need to get some $ from those monkeys!!!!''

Money was always the imperative, the language of his desire strong enough to make the 46-year-old father of five sound like a frat dude in a beer ad: ''Da man! You iz da man! Do you hear me?! You da man!! How much $$ coming tomorrow? Did we get some more $$ in?''

At the hearing, Abramoff cut a handsome figure in a dark suit. His short black hair was neatly trimmed and combed. With his square jaw and dark eyes, he might have passed for a dashing Baldwin brother. But Abramoff had the look of a condemned man. (He would tell me later that the experience reminded him of ''that scene in 'Braveheart,' when he's brought in on a gurney to be cut up, with the crowd assembled.'') As the assembled senators lambasted his dealings -- ''a pathetic, disgusting example of greed run amok,'' said one -- Abramoff would merely invoke his right not to testify.

Abramoff's rise and fall is not just a Washington story of our time. His close-knit relationship with DeLay -- the contours of which have been the chief topic of discussion in Washington for the past month -- threatens DeLay's position as majority leader of the House. Yet in Jack Abramoff's telling, his is merely the story of how Washington really works.

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I met with Jack Abramoff in late March at Signatures, the upscale contemporary American cuisine restaurant in which he has a majority stake. Located on Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and Capitol Hill, Signatures is no personal lark: it has been an important locus for Abramoff's business, broadly defined, a hangout where Republican lobbyists and congressmen could dine on a $35 beef filet and where Abramoff held many political fund-raisers. Abramoff -- who, except for a brief TV interview, had not spoken for attribution since the Indian Affairs hearing in September -- agreed to see me with the understanding that he would not discuss specific allegations. (He is the subject of investigations by two Senate committees, the Department of Interior and the Justice Department.)

When I arrived, Abramoff was finishing lunch with his lawyer Abbe Lowell, a scandal specialist who represented Washington's last great pariah, Gary Condit. Abramoff and Lowell soon joined me in a private dining room at the back of the restaurant. Abramoff walked in quietly and extended his hand with a sheepish grin. In his notorious e-mail messages Abramoff comes across as manic, impatient and ruthless. Now he seemed deflated. He was pale and tired-looking and thick around the middle. He took a seat by a window and fidgeted with an empty yellow packet of artificial sweetener he had poured into an iced tea. Sitting beside him, Lowell seemed more tense than his client. ''Jack is doing this against my advice,'' he said.

Abramoff was friendly, talkative and funny. When I suggested to him -- gently, not wanting to put him off -- that he had become ''a little radioactive,'' his face brightened. ''I don't know what it's like to be a little radioactive! The Geiger counters are going'' -- he raised his hands in lieu of completing the thought. At other times, he was far more somber. ''I have basically had my life obliterated,'' he said softly.

Put simply, Abramoff claimed not to see what he had done wrong. ''I've been shocked at how I've been portrayed in the media,'' he said. ''The Jack Abramoff who has been made into a caricature and a punching bag in the national media is not the Jack Abramoff who I think exists. If I read the articles about me, and I didn't know me, I would think I was Satan.'' The experience, he said, has been ''Kafkaesque.''

Over the course of two meetings -- the second one a week later at the offices of Lowell's law firm -- Abramoff maintained that his lobbying work had been totally ethical and that his fees were justified by his effectiveness. ''I have been an aggressive advocate for people who engaged me,'' he said firmly. ''I did this within a philosophical framework, and a moral and legal framework. And I have been turned into a cartoon of the greatest villain in the history of lobbying.'' He suggested that jealous rivals had sabotaged him. ''There is this tremendous cutthroat zero-sum game'' in the lobbying industry, he said.

Despite some reports to the contrary, Abramoff was not prepared to turn on his Capitol Hill friends, DeLay among them. But there were occasional hints that the knowledge he possesses could indeed be quite damning. At one point, for instance, I asked Abramoff to gauge the influence of lobbyist money in Congress.

''I just don't think members of Congress for the most part sell their votes or their ideology,'' he told me.

For the most part?

''Ahem!'' Lowell interjected. ''Hold on, hold on.''

Lowell stood and summoned his client from the table. The two men walked to a corner of the room and huddled with their arms around each other. After a minute or two Abramoff returned and sat down.

''I would say the same thing,'' he told me. ''I would say, generally speaking, that's the case.'' Generally speaking, that is.

Abramoff was born, as chance would have it, in Atlantic City, where his father was with Arnold Palmer Enterprises. When he was 10, the family moved to Beverly Hills, Calif., where Abramoff became a high-school weight-lifting champ who once squatted 540 pounds. He was raised in a nonobservant Jewish household. But when he was 12, he told me, a viewing of ''Fiddler on the Roof'' changed his life: ''I made the decision that I would become religious in order to preserve the faith in our family.'' He ran out and bought books on Judaism with his own savings.

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Abramoff inherited his conservative worldview from his father, who had ties to Ronald Reagan. As a student at Brandeis, outside Boston, he brought California Reaganism with him, organizing Massachusetts campuses for Reagan's presidential campaign in 1980. After graduating a year later, Abramoff was elected chairman of the College Republican National Committee, a position once held by Karl Rove.

Even in his early 20's, says Morton Blackwell, a former Reagan aide and longtime mentor to young conservatives: ''Jack was a good politician. He clearly was a leader.'' And he looked the part, in his pinstripes and fedoras. ''He always dressed incredibly well, even when he was a kid,'' says a conservative activist in Washington who has known Abramoff for more than 20 years. (Like many people I spoke to, he did not want his name in an article about Abramoff.) ''He was always more stylish than Brooks Brothers. The hair was immovable, always done up. I don't think I ever saw him not in a suit.''

Early on, Abramoff made friends who would be vital to his future success. His College Republican campaign had been managed by Grover Norquist, who is now one of Washington's most influential conservative activists. Joining the team as a $200-per-month intern was a baby-faced college student, Ralph Reed. Together, the three of them shaped the organization into a right-wing battle machine. ''It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the Left,'' Abramoff was quoted as saying in the group's 1983 annual report. ''Our job is to remove them from power permanently.''

Abramoff's next stop was Citizens for America, a Reaganite grass-roots group that helped Oliver North build support for the Nicaraguan contras and staged a daring meeting of anti-Communist rebel leaders in 1985 in Jamba, Angola. (''I spent Shabbos in Jamba, and when I went out to pray,'' he told me, the locals thought he was a ''mystic.'') Things ended on a sour note when the group's millionaire founder, Lewis Lehrman, concluded that Abramoff had spent his money carelessly.

By the mid-1980's, Abramoff was tiring of political activism and its low wages. ''I wanted to make money,'' he says. After graduating from Georgetown Law School in 1986, Abramoff, not yet 30, started a production company. Its signature achievement was the 1989 film ''Red Scorpion,'' an action movie in which Dolph Lundgren plays a Soviet agent who turns on his evil Communist masters. Produced and based on a story by Abramoff himself, it is a crude film: in one scene, Lundgren stumbles into a crowded bar, belches loudly and then proceeds to head-butt a barfly, punch out the bartender and boorishly sing the Russian national anthem before machine-gunning the joint. In the film's first 30 minutes, Lundgren K.O.'s or kills a dozen people. When I mentioned that I'd seen half of the movie, Abramoff grinned and said: ''You got through half of it? Wait until you see 'Red Scorpion 2'!'' (Yes, there was a sequel.) A few years after ''Red Scorpion'' was released (but before the sequel), however, Abramoff claimed to be upset, publicly blaming the film's director for its runaway violence and profanity. He established a short-lived Committee for Traditional Jewish Values in Entertainment, but then concluded he wouldn't be able to put out movies that met his standards.

The political world soon beckoned. In November 1994, with the public frustrated over the Clintons' health care proposals and with Republicans leveling charges of corruption at Democrats in Congress, the G.O.P. won control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 1954. ''The 1994 election was a huge shock on K Street,'' Abramoff recalled, referring to the location of many lobbying firms. ''These folks they were used to ignoring'' -- conservative bomb-throwers like Newt Gingrich and DeLay -- ''were suddenly running committees. I found myself in the position of being one of the few who actually knew these guys.'' On the very Saturday after the election, Abramoff was approached about a job with the prominent law and lobbying firm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. Upon his hire, the firm's news release boasted of Abramoff's ties to Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition, the Republican National Committee and top House Republican leaders. ''He is someone on our side,'' Tom DeLay's chief of staff, Ed Buckham, explained to National Journal magazine soon after. ''He has access to DeLay.''

Abramoff soon made his name representing an obscure client: the Northern Mariana Islands, a United States commonwealth in the remote western Pacific Ocean where businesses enjoyed a quirky status. American labor laws like the minimum wage did not apply, but manufacturers there could still affix the Made in the U.S.A. label to garments they produced for companies like the Gap and Tommy Hilfiger. Abramoff depicted the tiny islands as an entrepreneurial paradise, fighting Congressional attempts to impose pro-worker regulations there (and bringing in some $7 million to his company). It was during this period that he cultivated the art of the junket, over the years flying dozens of members of Congress and their aides to the islands, where they stayed in luxury resorts. Numerous conservative columnists and think-tankers made the trips as well. ''Suddenly the Mariana Islands became one of the critical conservative causes of the mid-90's,'' says Marshall Wittmann, who was then a senior official with the Christian Coalition but has since defected to the Democratic Leadership Council.

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One of Abramoff's key allies in the Marianas fight was Tom DeLay, then the No. 3 Republican in the House. They had met through Daniel Lapin, a Seattle-based rabbi with strong ties to the Christian right, and bonded over their hard-edged conservative politics and devout religious faith. Since then, they have traveled together on at least three lavish junkets, including trips to Moscow and London. (It was on a trip to the Marianas in 1997 that DeLay proclaimed Abramoff ''one of my closest and dearest friends.'') Abramoff did DeLay smaller favors, like lending him premium sky-box seats to a Three Tenors concert in 2000 (a gift DeLay did not report). In 2002 Abramoff even dropped by a baby shower for DeLay's daughter. One former DeLay aide described him as the ''godfather'' of DeLay's Washington network.

During the mid-1990's, Abramoff began representing Indian tribes with casino operations. The first was the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, who would pay his firm more than $5 million in the late 90's. As his business and reputation grew, Abramoff was becoming a vital cog in the G.O.P.'s money machine. He played a major role in ''The K Street Project,'' a Norquist-designed initiative that pressured lobbying firms to slant Republican in their hiring and donations. Public-interest watchdogs were appalled at the new level of coordination between Congress and business lobbyists, but Abramoff makes no apologies for it. ''It was my role to push the Republicans on K Street to be more helpful to the conservative movement,'' Abramoff told me. Partly to that end, Abramoff hired several former senior G.O.P. Congressional aides onto his lobbying team, including DeLay aides like Michael Scanlon and Tony Rudy, now a prominent lobbyist. He also sent his associates in the other direction; in 2001, for example, his personal assistant, Susan Ralston, took the same job under Karl Rove, effectively making her Rove's gatekeeper.

Abramoff also directed his clients to donate to the conservative movement. None did so more than the Indian tribes that he had begun to represent. Abramoff once boasted he had steered more than $10 million in tribal contributions to G.O.P.-aligned groups. Documents from the Coushatta Tribe, based in Kinder, La., show how this worked: Abramoff presented the tribe with a specific list of ''requests,'' which included such helpful notations as ''Very receptive to tribal issues,'' ''Senate Appropriations cmte. Member'' or simply ''Race is priority for the Republican leadership.'' Abramoff's old friends, including DeLay, were often the beneficiaries of Coushatta money. For instance, the tribe sent $20,000 to one DeLay political committee and $10,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority, a DeLay-run state political committee whose activities are now under investigation. Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform received $25,000 from the tribe for a promised meeting with the president, which never took place. Coushatta money also went to Ralph Reed's Atlanta-based political consulting firm. That firm took more than $4 million from Abramoff to rally religious opposition to a casino Abramoff was trying to shut down on the Coushatta's behalf. (Reed, who is running for lieutenant governor of Georgia, has insisted he was ''deceived'' by Abramoff. Others on the Christian right aren't so sure. ''I think it's a hard sell that he didn't know any of this,'' says Paul Weyrich, a dean of Washington social conservatives.)

Abramoff wouldn't talk specifically about his relationship with DeLay. But he did suggest, in a general way, that people are being naive about the capital's true workings. ''I don't think it's a secret that, in Washington, the role of the lobbyist includes gaining access to the decision maker, all within a proper legal context,'' he told me. ''There are probably two dozen events and fund-raisers every night. Lobbyists go on trips with members of Congress, socialize with members of Congress -- all with the purpose of increasing one's access to the decision makers.

''That is not unusual,'' he continued in a calm voice. ''They've been made to seem unusual with me. Perhaps because they haven't pulled e-mails to see the various fund-raisers and golfing outings that [other lobbyists] have been engaged in.

''I think there are people who would prefer that there are no political contributions, people who would prefer that all members of Congress live an ascetic, monklike social life. This is the system that we have. I didn't create the system. This is the system that we have.'' At another point in our conversation, he said something else about that system. ''Eventually,'' he said, ''money wins in politics.''

Certainly money fueled Abramoff's lobbying work. One case study is Abramoff's relationship with the Tigua Indians, based in El Paso. A poor tribe, desperate for casino riches, the Tiguas were the incidental victim in 2001 of an Abramoff lobbying campaign to enforce a state gambling ban in Texas, focused primarily on an upstart tribal casino near Houston that threatened his Louisiana Coushatta clients. When the ban also shuttered the Tiguas' Speaking Rock Casino, Abramoff showed little pity at first. Writing to Ralph Reed on Feb. 11, 2002, he declared: ''I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!! Oh well, stupid folks get wiped out.''

But Abramoff soon converted the Tiguas' loss into his gain. By Feb. 18, 2002, he was pitching his services to the tribe in an e-mailed memo that scorned the ''ill-advised'' ban he had just supported and noting ''the critical importance of not allowing tribal sovereignty to be eroded by the actions of the State of Texas.'' The Tiguas hired Abramoff and Scanlon, but it was a delicate relationship. When Abramoff was copied on a mass e-mailing apparently sent by Marc Schwartz, then a consultant to the tribe, he sent a livid message to Scanlon: ''that [expletive] idiot put my name on an e-mail list! what a [expletive] moron! he may have blown our cover!! Dammit. We are moving forward anyway and taking their [expletive] money.''

Abramoff planned to slip a provision granting the Tiguas gaming rights into a bipartisan election-reform bill before Congress. He turned to an old Republican friend, Representative Bob Ney of Ohio. On March 20, 2002, he sent Scanlon good news: ''just met with Ney!!! We're [expletive] gold!!!! He's going to do Tigua.'' A few days later, Abramoff sent Schwartz an e-mail message asking for $32,000 in donations to Ney's campaign fund and political action committee -- ''asap.''

In June, Abramoff sent Schwartz an e-mail message with a new request: ''our friend asked if we could help (as in cover) a Scotland golf trip for him and some staff . . . for August. The trip will be quite expensive (we did this for another member -- you know who) 2 years ago. I anticipate that the total cost -- if he brings 3-4 members and wives -- would be around $100K or more.'' (Schwartz later testified before a Senate committee that Ney was ''our friend'' and that Abramoff told him that ''you know who'' was DeLay. Records show that DeLay did, in fact, travel to Scotland in 2000, accompanied by Abramoff as well as his wife and two top aides.)

Abramoff told the Tiguas that Ney ''would probably do the trip through the Capital Athletic Foundation as an educational mission'' and asked them for a donation to the foundation, a charity Abramoff had founded ostensibly to support youth athletics. That August, Ney traveled to Scotland with Reed. (Eventually, money from other Abramoff clients paid for the trip.) In a disclosure form, Ney -- who now says he was ''duped'' and ''misled'' by ''these two nefarious individuals'' -- would report that the purpose of his trip was to give a speech to Scottish parliamentarians, attend an Edinburgh military ceremony and visit the British Parliament.

Abramoff's plans came to naught, however. In a July 25, 2002, e-mail message to Scanlon, he explained how Senator Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat thought to be supporting them, had let him down: ''I just spoke with Ney who met today with Dodd on the bill and raised our provision. Dodd looked at him like a deer in headlights and said he never made such a commitment and that, with the problems of new casinos in Connecticut, it is a problem!!! Mike, please call me immediately to tell me how we wired this, or were supposed to wire it. Ney feels we left him out to dry. Please call me!!!''

The deal had collapsed. But Abramoff never informed the Tiguas, who now claim he continued to hold out hope of victory even when he knew the battle was lost. Based on what he has learned subsequently, Schwartz told me that ''from July 25, 2002, it became an absolute fraud.''

Abramoff insisted to me that he kept working on behalf of the Tiguas: ''We were like flying Dutchmen going from bill to bill.'' He made a last-ditch effort to attach the Tigua provision to a huge budget bill, a plan he outlined in a Dec. 30 e-mail message to Schwartz: ''Our hope is that an omnibus bill is put together so we can work through our friends on the leadership staff to insert the language at the very end of the process, instead of working through the normal appropriations process -- which involves too many people and could jeopardize our legislative fix.''

That tactic failed, too. In this instance money did not win. By early 2003, the Tiguas, having paid $4.2 million on the campaign, were running low on cash. Schwartz says it would be months before the Tiguas realized that, just a year before, Abramoff had made millions supporting a ban on casino gambling in Texas.

Abramoff is adamant about one thing: he did not dupe his Indian clients. The topic brings him to life and elicits an aggressive tone reminiscent of his e-mail messages. ''My clients got tremendous value!'' he told me. ''My clients used to refer to me as the most profitable slot machine in the whole operation! Tribes are not a bunch of idiots and simpletons. If a tribe spends millions of dollars to protect billions of dollars, that doesn't make them saps! It makes them good businesspeople!''

It was our second meeting, in a conference room at Lowell's law offices. When I arrived, Abramoff was tapping at a laptop computer, trying to find a synagogue for Lowell, who would be traveling to Mississippi for another client. ''There's a conservative synagogue in Biloxi!'' Abramoff exclaimed merrily. Lowell said, ''Jack's my spiritual adviser.''

Abramoff had proposed a second meeting for the specific purpose of explaining that ''the story of the Tigua is not a story of me going 'hahahaha!''' -- here he rubbed his hands together in sinister movie-villain fashion. He had come armed with a Rand McNally atlas and spent the better part of an hour walking me through the saga. It was a maestro performance: Abramoff waved his arms, jabbed a pencil at obscure towns on the map and let his voice boom. The talk of strategy and deal-making had him out of his funk; I felt I was seeing the master operator of the not-too-distant past.

The crux of his argument is that he never planned to shut the Tiguas down and then ''go out to get them to pay me.'' From the e-mail messages released by the Senate, that much seems true. Abramoff's main target was a Houston-area casino; the Tiguas were collateral damage. What about Abramoff's fear that his ''cover'' had been blown in an e-mail message? He insisted his fear was that rival lobbyists might spring into action if they learned that someone of his caliber was involved. Oddly, however, Abramoff seemed most passionate about the notion that he had failed to get what he wanted. He blames Ney and Dodd, whose recent claims of ignorance about the details of his Tigua lobbying, he said, are bogus. ''We would have succeeded but for Chris Dodd, who said yes -- and then all of a sudden, he changed!'' Here he was practically pleading with me: ''He changed!''

But he reserved special scorn for his old friend -- ex-friend -- Bob Ney. Abramoff said that Ney was deeply involved in the lobbying effort and that any claims otherwise are untrue. He singles out a meeting and a long conference call Ney conducted with Tigua leaders in which he assured them that he would help. ''Ney told the press, 'I was duped'? It's crazy!'' He turned up his palms, again with the pleading look in his eyes. ''He was on the phone for an hour and a half!'' (A spokesman for Ney, Brian Walsh, said that Ney only considered the Tigua provision when he heard it had Dodd's support. ''After Congressman Ney spoke to Senator Dodd and found that Jack Abramoff was lying, no further action was taken,'' Walsh said. Dodd has issued a statement saying he never supported the provision, a contention supported by the testimony at the Indian Affairs hearing.)

''That,'' Abramoff said, collecting himself, ''was the only time I can think of that we failed to achieve our goal. That was 1 loss against 10,000 wins.'' He stared at me intently. ''We never lost,'' he said, stabbing the table to punctuate each word. ''We. Did. Not. Lose. One. Fight. Ever.''


Today Abramoff's life is in shambles. Stacks, the Washington deli he opened in 2002, has closed. So has the Eshkol Academy, a small private Jewish school in suburban Maryland that Abramoff founded in 2001; a group of its former teachers is suing Abramoff for unpaid wages. Given the multiple investigations, an indictment and maybe even prison time are possibilities for Abramoff. ''All of a sudden, in an almost Job-ian fashion, my whole world collapsed,'' he says.

His friends maintain that Abramoff will be vindicated. ''I don't know what it is that he is supposed to have done that is supposed to have been illegal or wrong,'' Norquist told me. ''I understand that there's a lot of money here, and more than people are used to. But that's different from some broken law.''

Abramoff also seems to see himself as an innocent victim. ''Of course, I have made mistakes,'' he told me. Yet it's not quite clear what he thinks those mistakes are. Abramoff insisted that his hunger for riches was driven by charitable impulses. ''I have spent years giving away virtually everything I made,'' he said. ''Frankly, I didn't need to have a kosher delicatessen. That was money I could have bought a yacht with. I don't live an extravagant lifestyle. I felt that the resources coming into my hands were the consequence of God putting them there.'' And he has a ready explanation for much of his behavior. When asked, for instance, how a religious man who reportedly loathed Hollywood profanity could send e-mail messages playfully calling Scanlon a ''big time faggot'' or declaring, apropos one intransigent tribal client, ''We need a beautiful girl to send up there,'' Abramoff suggested that he dumbed down his words to motivate Scanlon. ''I didn't have a lot of time to articulate things,'' he said. ''Sometimes I would find myself speaking to people in the language that they speak.'' He likened himself to the Biblical character Jacob, who dressed in his brother Esau's clothes. Jacob did this, Abramoff told me, as ''a more effective means of communicating with Esau.'' (In fact, Jacob's goal is to deceive his father.)

And the racism implied in calling tribal leaders ''monkeys'' and ''troglodytes''? Abramoff responded: ''That's probably the thing that hurts me the most about all this. It's just so opposite of who I am.''

Lowell interjected: ''When he uses the word 'monkey' to describe one part of a faction, he is referring to an opponent, not Native Americans in general.''

The shame is particularly acute for a religious man. I had noticed that amid the vast profanity and insults and Machiavellian exultations in his e-mail messages, Abramoff drew lines. In one message, he rendered ''God'' as ''G-D.'' Abramoff nodded solemnly when I brought this up. ''This is a Jewish tradition, to not write out God's name in something that might be destroyed,'' he explained. (Bizarrely, amid all the damning candor of his e-mail messages, Abramoff also showed this tantalizing dash of caution: ''I have an idea but don't want to put it on e-mail,'' he wrote to Scanlon in early 2003.)

The effect has been devastating for a man once defined by his exuberant hubris. ''In Judaism, it's one of the definitions of hell,'' Abramoff told me, ''that you have to sit and watch the replay of everything you said and did with the people you know.'' Members of the Jewish community whose respect was so important to him are especially upset. ''[It] is a scar on the entire Jewish community,'' a conservative Jewish activist who knows Abramoff told me. During a Purim comedy night in March, one Georgetown synagogue performed a gag song entitled ''The Ballad of Jack Abramoff.'' Sample verse: ''With all this influence and all this power/His deli still couldn't cook a burger in an hour.''

And yet Abramoff only seems ready to embrace his faith more fully. He said he wants to have another try at making movies -- this time ''for the audience that was rediscovered by 'The Passion.''' He has already written a few treatments, he said.

Michael Crowley is a senior editor at The New Republic.

 
At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Chani said...

> "These mofos are the stupidest idiots in the land for sure."

Jack Abramoff was incorrect with his quoted comment. As we all know, JWB is the holder of the title that Abramoff cited.

 
At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Ulricii said...

So Chani, your point is....?

Or did you just want to throw an off-topic slam for the fun of it?

 
At 3:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How frum could Jack Abramoff possibly be if he openly eats lunch at a treif restaurant (of which is part owner) which is also open on shabbat?

Jews of America: Leave America. Move to Israel. Return to Judasim.
Return to the land.

 
At 6:49 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Jack in a Box Besieged lobbyist Jack Abramoff offers his take on the ethics scandals roiling Washington and threatening his good friend Tom DeLay

Jack Abramoff; Adam Zagorin
May 9, 2005
Time Magazine (US Edition)

Since he emerged as a leading character in the controversy over House majority leader Tom DeLay's ethical standards, Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been famously tight-lipped. A central issue is whether some of DeLay's overseas travel was funded, at least indirectly, by Abramoff, in violation of House rules barring legislators from accepting travel paid for by lobbyists. Abramoff, 46, an orthodox Jew who espouses conservative values, was already under investigation by two congressional committees and the FBI for allegedly bilking his Indian-tribe clients and possibly abusing tax exemptions on charities he set up. Abramoff spoke to TIME'S Adam Zagorin about the questions swirling around him. Excerpts from their conversation, conducted by phone and e-mail:

TIME Tom DeLay has called you one of his "closest friends." Do you consider him a close friend?

ABRAMOFF I do.

TIME Did you get too close to DeLay?

ABRAMOFF No. Tom DeLay is a dedicated public servant. I was drawn to Tom because of our shared interest in the Bible and like political philosophies. He's a man fortunate enough to have a loving and devoted wife who shares his faith and philosophy.

TIME There is evidence that you paid for DeLay's travel. What is your explanation for this apparent violation of House rules?

ABRAMOFF I did not base my lobbying on the stereotypical Washington image that lobbyists provide little more than a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge"--or gifts and gratuities. In my view, no worthy members of Congress or their staff would ever change their position on an issue based on anything other than their constituents' interests or their own deeply held views. My lobbying efforts were focused on presenting my clients' causes in a way which was consistent with the philosophy of my friends on Capitol Hill. That's why I had such a record of success--not because anyone received gifts or traveled with me. As for the travel, like virtually every lobbyist in modern times, I've traveled with members of Congress and staff. Lobbyists will travel with a member or staff because their presence will help the educational value of a trip. Oftentimes, the lobbyist is a personal friend, though, and will travel in the same way that any friend will join another friend. Media attempts at endowing innocent congressional travel with nefarious intrigue sadly typify what has happened in this story.

TIME Whose idea was the trip DeLay took to Scotland and London? How did you come to make some of the travel arrangements and pay some of the bills?

ABRAMOFF It's hard to remember the details of trips which occurred five or more years ago. The trip to the U.K. was sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, on whose board I then sat. Having the most powerful member of Congress meet with one of the three greatest leaders of the 20th century--Lady [Margaret] Thatcher--was a worthy activity. As to the logistical details, I don't recall the arrangements, but I'm certain that everything was done with the intent of adhering to the law. I participated in many trips involving Congressmen, their staffs and other policymakers over the years. Trips are an essential way for members of Congress and others to get firsthand knowledge of important issues and regions around the world.

TIME What did the side trip to golf in Scotland have to do with that?

ABRAMOFF I have already explained my view of trips I have taken with congressional members and staff. Your question would seem better directed to the Congressmen themselves rather than to me.

TIME How did it come to pass that two of your gambling-industry clients deposited $25,000 each with the trip's official sponsor on the day DeLay left for the trip?

ABRAMOFF I have no knowledge of this. You would have to ask them.

TIME We reported this week that you gave expensive gifts to members of DeLay's staff, including a weekend trip for aide Tony Rudy. DeLay's current chief of staff admitted he accepted a golf club from you. Wasn't that a violation of ethics rules?

ABRAMOFF What constitutes a violation of congressional ethics rules is a question better suited for members of Congress or their staff who are subject to these rules.

TIME You are said to be a religious person, yet in e-mail communications you describe your Native American clients in terms (as "monkeys" and "losers") that could have been lifted from the Howard Stern Show. What were you thinking?

ABRAMOFF I regret that in the heat of the locker-room atmosphere of the lobbying world, I sometimes--rarely, but sometimes--resorted to language more common to a drill sergeant or a football coach. These regrettable utterances were not directed at my clients. They were usually reserved for those attacking my clients. Many of my e- mails have been maliciously taken out of context. As a result, I've been portrayed as a cynical barbarian preying on the very clients I was charged to defend. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have a solid record of years of achievement for the tribes, and my respect for them is unbounded.

TIME A Senate investigation showed that you charged excessive amounts to certain Native American tribes and delivered little or nothing in return. Did you?

ABRAMOFF Over the 10 years that I lobbied for Native Americans, my tribal clients continually praised our efforts as delivering far in excess of the amounts charged. We delivered literally billions of dollars in value. That we charged millions of dollars for these services might seem high, especially compared to the typical Washington lobbyist who charges less and delivers almost nothing. But the return on investment for these tribes--and all my clients-- is far better than anything they or we could have imagined. The Native Americans I served are sophisticated business people. They are running a multibillion-dollar industry. They realize that spending millions to save billions is just good business.

TIME Are you cooperating with prosecutors? Have you cut a deal?

ABRAMOFF I have not commented and will not comment on ongoing investigations.

TIME It was recently suggested in a published story that you might turn state's evidence on DeLay. Did you really indicate that you might do that?

ABRAMOFF I did not. The reporter who went with that story did so in the face of flat denials, not only from me but from others.

TIME Much has been made of your lavishing favors and gifts on members of Congress, including allowing use of your skyboxes at sports venues and of your gourmet Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant. You also raised millions for members, their political committees and charities. Is that the way things ought to be done?

ABRAMOFF Politicians run for office, and they need resources to do so. I've dedicated my political life to helping those I support legally obtain the resources they need to get re-elected. Every night scores of fund-raising events take place, and liberals, conservatives and moderates all participate. And I can't imagine there's anything I did that other lobbyists didn't do and aren't doing today. The focus fell on me because the media built me up as a Washington powerbroker. Reading the press, it almost seems as if I invented political contributions by lobbyists, travel with Congressmen, the hiring of former Capitol Hill staffers, etc., etc. It's almost comical how my every action and thought have been scandalized.

TIME Are you now in financial as well as legal peril?

ABRAMOFF It used to be that I had a lot of clients paying my law firm a lot of money. Now I have a lot of lawyers to whom I pay a lot of money, no clients. Quite a reversal of fortune. -

 
At 6:57 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Freebies, Fat Cats, and a Very Busy Back Room
by Danielle Knight; Kenneth T. Walsh; edited by Peter Cary
May 2, 2005
U.S. News & World Report

Every few years in Washington a new scandal blows up, and it usually involves lobbyists, lawmakers, money--and a well-heeled watering hole. Thus, it comes as small surprise that Jack Abramoff, a GOP superlobbyist now under investigation by a grand jury and two Senate committees, owns a restaurant called Signatures and that some lawmakers were not paying for fundraising events held there--until questioned by the press. Hill staffers say there may be other shenanigans involving lawmakers and lobbyists who frequent the restaurant/bar.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between Capitol Hill and the White House, Signatures has hosted more than 60 Republican fundraisers in the past three years--many in a dimly lit back room behind the sushi bar. One fundraiser, in June 2003, was for Illinois Rep. Dennis Hastert. This month, BusinessWeek Online reported that Hastert failed to pay for the fundraiser until a reporter began asking questions. The tab has since been paid by Hastert's political action committee and filed with the Federal Election Commission. Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, acknowledged that his campaign also failed to pay a Signatures fundraising tab from September 2003. Vitter said he had intended to pay but was never charged.

U.S. News has learned that some congressional staffers have asked lobbyists to leave their credit cards at Signatures so they could eat and drink on their tabs--sometimes even if the lobbyist wasn't there. Such actions could violate congressional ethics rules.

Abramoff also once owned a kosher deli, and he apparently wined and dined his pals at both joints. He'd take you to "the deli if you were not too important," an investigator joked, "and to the steakhouse if you were."

 
At 7:39 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55283-2004Sep27.html

Foundation's Funds Diverted From Mission
Records Detail Spending By GOP Lobbyist Abramoff

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 28, 2004; Page A01

The Capital Athletic Foundation's Web site portrays youths at play: shaking hands over a tennis net, learning how to hold a bat, straining for a jump ball. Its text solicits donations for what it describes as "needy and deserving" sportsmanship programs.

In its first four years of operation, the charity has collected nearly $6 million. A gala fundraiser last year at the International Spy Museum at one point attracted the Washington Redskins' owner as its chairman and was to honor the co-founder of America Online.

But tax and spending records of the Capital Athletic Foundation obtained by The Washington Post show that less than 1 percent of its revenue has been spent on sports-related programs for youths.

Instead, the documents show that Jack Abramoff, one of Washington's high-powered Republican lobbyists, has repeatedly channeled money from corporate clients into the foundation and spent the overwhelming portion of its money on pet projects having little to do with the advertised sportsmanship programs, including political causes, a short-lived religious school and an overseas golf trip.

The foundation's brief history -- now the subject of a federal investigation -- charts how Abramoff attached himself to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and, in so doing, became a magnet for large sums of money from business interests. It also demonstrates how easily large amounts of such cash flowed through a nonprofit advocacy group to support the interests of a director.

Internal records state, for example, that Abramoff and his wife, Pam -- who are listed as the foundation's sole directors -- spent more than 70 percent of its revenue from 2001 to 2003, or $4.03 million, on a Jewish school that Abramoff founded in Columbia. The Eshkol Academy operated for two years and schooled two of his sons before closing this spring with unpaid bills, faculty members said.

The records also state that $248,742 of the foundation's income went toward buying a house near Abramoff's in Silver Spring, titled in the name of a company directed by Abramoff and fellow lobbyists from Greenberg Traurig, the Washington law firm where he worked until March. It was initially a school dormitory but is now slated to be sold, with proceeds benefiting the company.

Other recorded expenditures include $500 to help finance a memorial dinner two years ago in honor of the Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi, and $150,225 for a golf trip to Scotland aboard a private jet. Abramoff's guests on the August 2002 trip included two fellow lobbyists, the Republican chairman of the House Administration Committee and a senior official at the General Services Administration.

Those and other expenditures by the foundation have sparked wide-ranging investigations by the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and two congressional committees. A source familiar with the scope of the probes said a grand jury has asked questions concerning whether Abramoff used the foundation to conceal payments from clients and shelter income from taxation. A Senate hearing on Abramoff's lobbying activities and billing practices is planned for tomorrow.

Abbe D. Lowell, Abramoff's attorney, declined to respond to detailed questions about the Capital Athletic Foundation and its activities but said -- as Abramoff has -- that its critics are pursuing a "political and improper agenda." Abramoff publicist Andrew Blum said both the foundation and the Eshkol Academy were "real and properly run charitable institutions which supported real programs that made a real difference in the lives of children in our community."

Abramoff, Blum said, "has not used any charity improperly for his own benefit."

Ties to Indian Tribes

The investigation into Abramoff's financial activities began this spring after The Post disclosed that he and public relations executive Michael Scanlon, a former spokesman for DeLay, had received at least $45 million from Indian tribes that operate gambling casinos. The tribes also had donated $2.9 million to federal candidates since 2001.

After Abramoff became their lobbyist, three tribes -- the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana -- contributed more than $2.02 million to the Capital Athletic Foundation, according to foundation tax records. The Choctaws also gave $1.07 million to the National Center for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit group for which Abramoff is a board member, according to the center's tax records.

Saginaw Chippewa officials have told federal investigators that they made the donations because Abramoff told them it would impress DeLay, a fellow golf buff whom Abramoff described in a 1995 letter to Arnold Palmer as his "very close personal friend."

The tribe donated $25,000 to the Capital Athletic Foundation in 2002 and another $25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee the following year, tribal attorney Henry Buffalo said. The lawyer said tribal leaders assumed that if they gave money, "Mr. DeLay would recognize that in some way," and if they needed legislative help, "Mr. DeLay would be able to look on that more favorably than not."

Stuart Roy, DeLay's spokesman, responded that many lobbyists exaggerate their influence with powerful lawmakers.

The ties between Abramoff and DeLay go back a long way. Since 1997, Abramoff and his wife have contributed $40,000 to DeLay's political action committees, and last year the Capital Athletic Foundation donated $25,000 to the DeLay Foundation for Kids, a charity the lawmaker founded. Abramoff has long been a member of DeLay's Congressional Council, which DeLay describes in promotional materials as a "special group of supporters."

Blum, Abramoff's publicist, said that "in the over 10 years that Jack Abramoff has known Congressman Tom DeLay, each has properly supported the other's charitable causes, each has properly followed the rules of lobbying and disclosure, and each has only properly advocated positions on national policy in which they both believe."

DeLay has also shown support for causes important to Abramoff's clients. A source close to Abramoff who asked not to be named because of the continuing grand jury investigation said Abramoff lobbied DeLay's office to organize a June 2003 letter -- co-signed by DeLay, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Deputy Whip Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) -- that endorsed a view of gambling law benefiting the Coushattas' desire to block gambling competition by another tribe.

The letter, sent to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, said the House leaders opposed a plan by the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians to open a casino at a non-reservation site, expected at the time to be outside Shreveport, La., not far from a casino owned by the Coushattas. The intent of the letter, the source said, was to protect the income from the Coushattas' casino -- about $300 million a year.

V. Heather Sibbison, a lobbyist at the time for the Jena Band, said: "I do this for a living, and I have never seen a letter like that before. It was incredibly unusual for that group of people, who do not normally weigh in on Indian issues, to express such a strong opinion about a particular project not in any of their home states."

DeLay spokesman Roy did not address whether Abramoff had contacted DeLay about the letter but said: "The majority leader has been consistent in his opposition to the expansion of gambling. Accusations and insinuations to the contrary are simply attempts to make a sexier story."

Using School as a 'Front'

Abramoff and his wife created the Capital Athletic Foundation in 1999 as a limited-liability company. He initially listed his home as the foundation's principal office, and in September 2002 he filed an operating agreement with the state of Maryland that said "all profit or loss shall be allocated to Abramoff," as well as any cash remaining at the end of each year.

In 2000, the foundation's purpose was described in tax documents as providing "gifts to schools in the Wash DC area in order to provide and enhance academic and athletic programs for children." Its Web site said the foundation would make lifetime Spirit of America awards, issue certificates of achievement to schools that emphasized athletics and appoint national ambassadors of sportsmanship.

There is no indication those things happened. Abramoff was the foundation's sole donor that year, giving $12,850, and the Yeshiva of Greater Washington was the sole grant recipient, getting $11,824.

In 2001, the foundation's reported income rose to more than $1.24 million, largely on the strength of a $1 million donation by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, a $177,415 donation made in Abramoff's name and a $50,000 donation by Foxcom Wireless, an Israeli-financed telecommunications company seeking the House Administration Committee's approval to install cell phone antennas throughout House office buildings. The firm Abramoff worked for, Greenberg Traurig, registered as a lobbyist for Foxcom in 2003.

Catherine Zatloukal, president and chief executive of the company, which is now named MobileAccess Networks, did not respond to questions about the firm's donation to the foundation.

As to the Coushattas' donation, Abramoff and Scanlon told them "where to send money" in Washington, said Roy Fletcher, a spokesman for the tribe. Fletcher and tribal lawyer Kent Hance said tribal leaders concluded eventually that the money was being used to pay for a luxury box at FedEx Field, where Abramoff would lobby for them during Redskins games.

For all its new wealth, the foundation recorded just two major grants that year. It paid a Web designer $50,510 to create an Internet presence for the Eshkol Academy, and it spent $115,930 on a Judaic studies home-schooling program that Abramoff created.

In 2002 the foundation, which on the Web site listed as its address a mail drop on Pennsylvania Avenue, collected more than $2.56 million from nine donors, including $991,749 from Abramoff. Other major donors, according to tax records, included three Indian tribes and the National Center for Public Policy Research.

By that time, the Eshkol Academy had leased office space to use for classes and enrolled several dozen students, some of whom paid annual tuition of more than $12,000. The Capital Athletic Foundation contributed more than $1.85 million to the academy that year, enough to pay a handful of teachers and a dean. The school also bought two Zamboni ice-cleaning machines, even though it did not own a hockey rink.

In 2003, the foundation took in more than $2.15 million, including a $250,000 donation from the National Center for Public Policy Research, a $400,000 donation by Abramoff, a $950,000 donation from Scanlon's consulting firm and a $500,000 donation from the International Interactive Alliance, an Internet casino group that employed Abramoff as a lobbyist, according to tax records. The foundation gave $2.13 million to the Eshkol Academy that year.

E-mails at the time showed Abramoff pushing for more money for his enterprise. He sent an e-mail to Scanlon in February 2003 stating: "Please make sure the next $1M[illion] from Coushatta for me goes to Eshkol Academy directly. Please tell them that we are 'using the school as our conduit for some of activities.' " The e-mail added that "if that won't fly with them, use CAF," referring to the Capital Athletic Foundation, or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Abramoff repeated the request in e-mails in March and April. The Eshkol Academy "is our front group," the first e-mail said. The second said: "I really need to get those funds into Eshkol asap. Let me know what we have to do."

Scanlon replied in an e-mail, obtained by federal authorities, that he could not direct the money to Eshkol because he did not have any invoices from the school.

Stephen L. Braga, an attorney for Scanlon, confirmed that the request to direct a Coushatta payment to the foundation "was received by Mr. Scanlon's firm" but said "no attempt was made by Mr. Scanlon or anyone at his firm to comply with that request. Furthermore, Mr. Scanlon never made any of the representations to tribal leaders that were suggested." Braga also said that any payment made to the Capital Athletic Foundation by Scanlon's firm in 2003 is "wholly unrelated" to Abramoff's e-mailed requests for money.

Lowell, Abramoff's attorney, did not dispute the e-mails but said whether Abramoff distributed his fees "to charities directly or asked his employers or clients to make charitable contributions on their own, the bottom line is that the money went and was used by legitimate charities for proper charitable purposes."

Major Expenses

A social highlight for the foundation was to have been a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in March 2003 at the International Spy Museum chaired by Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder and Fox News commentator Tony Snow. Its aim, according to invitations, was to honor James V. Kimsey, the co-founder and former chairman of America Online.

Snyder, Kimsey and Abramoff are all members of the Washington Redskins Leadership Council charity. The Capital Athletic Foundation donated $4,000 to the council in 2002, according to the foundation's tax records. Kimsey's chief of staff, Peter Kirsch, said that to his knowledge the dinner was rescheduled several times and then canceled; Redskins publicist Karl Swanson said that Snyder "lent" his name to the function at Kimsey's request but never attended.

A planner for the event said it was finally held in December. Nothing in the foundation's books indicates that the dinner raised more than a few thousand dollars.

Travel was another major foundation expense, totaling $240,416 in 2001 and 2002, records show. More than half of that was spent in August 2002 on the chartered jet that flew at least six people -- including Abramoff, House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), lobbyist and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, and then-General Services Administration chief of staff David Safavian -- to St. Andrews, Scotland, with a stopover in London on the way back.

None of those on the plane would say precisely how they spent their time, although two people confirmed that they played golf in St. Andrews. Ney spokesman Brian J. Walsh said Ney thought the trip's purpose was to raise money for the foundation, but Walsh did not cite any fundraising events.

Noam Neusner, a spokesman for Safavian -- who has been nominated for a senior position at the Office of Management and Budget -- said the trip was "primarily for golfing." "It had no business orientation to it," Neusner said, noting that Safavian paid back $3,100 for his expenses.

Researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

 

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