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Typhoid Jack

Washington super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is falling fast-and taking a lot of Capitol Hill's corruption with him

January 3rd, 2006 · Written by · No Comments

A congressional plague is reaching critical mass.

“I don’t think we’ve had something of this scope, arrogance and sheer venality in our lifetimes,” writes Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank. “It is building to an explosion, one that could create immense collateral damage within Congress and in coming elections.”

Patient Zero of this plague is Washington K-Street lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Plame case might grab the headlines, but Abramoff is regarded as the sharpest stake pressed against the heart of the Republican Party. He will become a household name in 2006.

Abramoff is under investigation by the Justice Department, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the IRS, the Department of Interior and the FBI.

Abramoff is under investigation by the Justice Department, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the IRS, the Department of Interior and the FBI. His lobbying firm has been exposed for ripping-off rich Indian casinos to the benefit of the Republican Party, and Abramoff has been indicted on federal wire fraud and conspiracy charges involving the buy-out of a fleet of Florida gambling boats from a guy who was murdered mafia-style soon thereafter.

His disease has already infected over a half-dozen members of congress, national coalitions, administration officials and beltway lobbyists. The Maalox must be getting trucked into Capitol Hill. Being linked to Abramoff – a Washington lobbyist for over 10 years – could be about the worst news anyone in the capitol could get.

THE “HAMMER” FALLS

One notable victim: former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who once called Abramoff one of his “closest, dearest friends.” Delay was indicted in September on allegations of money-laundering and conspiracy charges. This forced him to relinquish his post as House Majority Leader. On Dec. 6, a Texas judge dismissed the conspiracy charge but upheld the more serious money-laundering charge.

Delay lost all hope of returning to his post when this charge was upheld.

“The Hammer” as he was known, was brought low by Texas district attorney Ronnie Earle, who took on Delay in a “High Noon”-esque Gary Cooper style, postponing retirement to take down his Frank Miller.

The Abramoff plague doesn’t stop there. Old friends from college days like Super-conservative Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed and President of American Tax Reform coalition Grover Norquist have been tied to Abramoff through Senate or Justice Department investigations. Former White House Official David Safavian has been indicted on charges he lied about dealings with Abramoff – he is pleading not guilty. Rep. Bob W. Ney, R-Ohio, has been subpoenaed and is under investigation for bribery, which he also denies.

The GOP spinners are undoubtedly synchronizing their talking points…

The GOP spinners are undoubtedly synchronizing their talking points – their bile can almost be read verbatim on O’Reilly’s “Talking Points Memo” – and the influence of Abramoff will begin to be played down in the preceding months. President Bush broke his silence on the issue on Dec. 14, during an interview with Fox News, in which he dismissed the notion of Abramoff as the super-lobbyist he is, instead attempting to re-shape the debate by labeling him an “equal money dispenser” who was “giving money to both parties.”

Well, he kinda got it half right. Abramoff did give money to Democrats – like the leadership fund of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who received $66,000 from Abramoff-related contributions from 2001-2004. Reid reciprocated by writing Interior Secretary Gail Norton in opposition of a tribal casino whom Abramoff’s clients also opposed. Republican Speaker J. Dennis Hasert, R-Ill., opposed the casino as well – after collecting a check for $21,200 for his political action committee at an Abramoff fundraiser. Both lawmakers say they were not influenced by Abramoff.

Right. So Abramoff just gave money away like candy, for no apparent political gain? That’s a lot to swallow, especially when the congressmen in question turned around to do his clients’ bidding.

However, an equal money dispenser Abramoff is not. He was extremely close to the Republican Party power structure and fundraising, and was integral in helping the GOP gain and maintain power from the mid-nineties to today.

“He knows where a lot of the bodies are buried,” Bill Allison told Knight Ridder Tribune. Allison is a spokesperson for the Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan ethics watchdog group.

JACK OF ALL TRADES

To his credit, Abramoff has led quite a life. He was president of the National College Republicans in the early 1980′s. He wrote and produced two B-rate Hollywood Dolph Lundgren flicks, “Red Scorpion” and “Red Scorpion 2.” In between these two uber-violent movies he founded the Committee for Traditional Jewish Values in Entertainment, a morals organization that crusades against violence in cinema. He once organized a meeting of anti-communist guerrillas and mujaheddin in Africa. After becoming an influence peddler in Washington in 1994, he routinely held fundraisers at leased sports-arena skyboxes, and at his restaurant, Signatures, on Pennsylvania Avenue, which became a favorite haunt of GOP leadership. He also shucked out money for lavish trips to the Mariana’s Islands for lawmakers. Abramoff was the Van Wilder of Washington. The party-organizer.

He, of course, denies any wrongdoing.

“Any fair reading of Mr. Abramoff’s career would show that his clients benefited immensely from the hard work he and his team did on their behalf,” said Abramoff spokesperson Andrew Blum, in a statement.

How right he is. Sorta. In thousands of emails subpoenaed by Senate investigators, Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon-a former Delay press secretary who pled guilty in federal court to conspiring to bribe a top republican congressman among other public officials – detailed the type of benefits these clients received.

Abramoff’s clients included Indian tribes and Internet gaming businesses. He invoked the Fifth Amendment when called before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2004 – the point when the slimy ooze began to seep from the back room.

Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., is chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. “What set’s this tale apart, what makes it truly extraordinary, is the extent and degree of the apparent exploitation and deceit,” he said at one committee hearing.

“Monkeys” and “troglodytes,” as the Indian tribes are referred to in the emails, were charged $66 million for services the lobbyists never preformed. The two also boasted about “taking their fucking money.”

Abramoff raised over $100,000 for the 2004 Bush presidential campaign. He’s past boasted of access to Karl Rove and other cabinet members, and hired former members of Delay’s congressional staff.

A FLORIDA FIASCO

On Dec. 15, Abramoff’s former partner, Adam Kidnan, plead guilty to federal wire fraud and conspiracy charges involving a 2000 purchase of the SunCruz Casinos-a fleet of gambling “cruises to nowhere” that operates out of Miami, Fla.

It is likely Kidnan will testify in the case against Abramoff for a reduced sentence. Abramoff and Kidnan were indicted this summer for alledgedly cooking up a fake $23 million wire transfer to give the impression they were putting up personal funds into the SanCruz deal. Lenders Foothill Capital Corp. and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd. provided $60 million to the deal based on the fake transfer.

This case is separate from the Senate investigations in Washington. It also involves a murder. Konstantinos Boulis, the founder of SunCruz, was gunned down in Fort Lauderdale in 2001, during what has been described as a bitter dispute over company control. The suspects arrested in the Boulis murder worked for Kidnan, and allegedly had ties to the Gambino crime family of New York.

Abramoff is pointing the finger at Kidnan, claiming no knowledge at the time (only finding out later), and is scheduled for a trial-date on Jan. 9.

Update: Abramoff has agreed to plea guilty and is going to help prosecutors uncover further corruption on capitol hill.

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