Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2005: The Abramoff Scandal

It took a long time, but Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful men in Washington, is now doing time for his role in this scandal - which, like the Plame scandal is now a major motion picture. Here's how it looked at the time:

Few Americans have ever heard of Jack Abramoff. But then, most Americans can’t tell you who their local Congressmuppet is, either. And most Americans had never heard of Tom DeLay until the day he was indicted.

And it’s not just “average” Americans, either, whoever they are. I have a friend who ran for Congress in 2002. He tried to explain to the editorial board at one of the district’s main newspapers why the incumbent should be denied re-election. His opponent, he said, was a major ally of Tom DeLay. Who, asked these professional journalists, is Tom DeLay?

Well, Jack Abramoff may never be as famous as, say, Jessica Simpson, but his 15 minutes of fame will be coming up soon. Now, Jack’s in a bit of trouble. He’s under indictment for fraud and conspiracy, relating to his purchase of a casino boat company. It doesn’t help that the company’s former owner was whacked by Mobsters, or that the killers had received checks from some of Jack’s business partners.

Now, that’s kind of interesting, but even a Mob hit isn’t enough to make it a major story just yet. There seems to be a double standard for Republican scandals. It was big deal when Democrats misused the House Post Office, or when Mike Espy got free Super Bowl tickets. It was a major, multimedia, multi-month scandal when Congressman Gary Condit’s intern was found murdered in a park. But when Congressman Joe Scarborough’s intern was found murdered in his office, that wasn’t such a big deal.

But Jack’s story has the potential to break through into the zeitgeist. As one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, Jack has been in bed with nearly every Republican who matters: White House consigliere Karl Rove, GOP strategist Grover Norquist, fundamentalist pimp Ralph Reed, and, oh yes, Tom DeLay. These guys have known each other since college, where they decided that the lesson of Watergate was that Nixon hadn’t been nearly nasty enough. They are the pillars of Republican power, and each of them is becoming mired in scandal, and each of them is tied in with Jack Abramoff.

But wait, it gets better, because Jack’s business partner, an even sleazier piece of work named Michael Scanlon, has been indicted on an unrelated matter and is singing like a canary. Scanlon, not coincidentally, is a former aide to, yes, Tom DeLay. Scanlon knows where all the bodies are buried, and the prosecutors who bagged him are now looking at as many as five dozen Congresscritters, guaranteed to be nearly all Republicans. According to one scholar at the Brookings institution, “this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century.”

If you’d like to know whether your own Representative or Senator has been riding on the Abramoff/DeLay gravy train, journalist Wayne Madsen has compiled a handy “State by State GOP Scandal Scorecard.” It can be found at What’s compelling about all this is that Jack and his troubles seem to be connected with nearly every other scandal plaguing the party in power.

Karl Rove may or may not have cut a deal to avoid indictment in the Traitorgate scandal, but he may yet be sucked into the vortex of Jack’s Bribery, Inc. scandals. Jack raised more than a hundred grand for Bush/Cheney ’04, and the administration was in communication with his operation literally hundreds of times per year. One White House official, David Safavian, has been arrested for lying to investigators about his ties to Abramoff. Safavian, like Scanlon, is cooperating with prosecutors.

And one thing they might want to talk about would be the deal where Jack took $9 million from African dictator Omar Bongo of Gabon to set up a face-to-face with Gee Dubya. The White House might have been willing to overlook the fact that Bongo sits on the board of an al-Qaida-connected bank. Perhaps they were more interested in the fact that Ambassador Joe Wilson, husband of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame, was once posted to Gabon. The meeting took place during the time the administration was obsessed with finding dirt on Wilson.

While Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald continues to investigate which traitor in the White House blew Plame’s cover, he has other cases on his plate as well. Recently he indicted British media mogul Lord Conrad Black on eleven counts of fraud, and continues to investigate Black’s fellow board members, including Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger. In so doing, he interfaces regularly with another prosecutor, Paul McNulty, who is investigating the AIPAC and Boeing scandals. These have an overlapping cast of characters with Fitz’s cases.

Perle is tied up with the procurement fraud involving Boeing, which has already sent Air Force and Boeing officials to jail. Black’s wife is in tight with AIPAC, the Israeli lobby that may have been a conduit for stolen Pentagon documents. Also tight with AIPAC is House Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, who is of course in bed with… Jack Abramoff. Jack and his money-laundering, politician-bribing, influence-peddling, investor-swindling, partner-whacking operation are tied in to so many scandals because they are at the very nexus of power in Washington.

Abramoff, Rove, Norquist, Reed and DeLay have institutionalized corruption on a grand scale, unprecedented even in a town as cynical as Washington, DC. It took the Democrats forty years of running Congress before the stench of the post office, banking, Wright and Rostenkowski scandals greased the skids for the GOP to take over both houses. In just over a decade, the Republicans have outdone them spectacularly. In one fell swoop you have the leader of the House, DeLay, indicted for criminal conspiracy, the leader of the Senate, Bill Frist, under investigation for securities fraud, and the most powerful man in the White House, Rove (sorry, Dick) under investigation for the moral equivalent of treason.

Nothing like this has ever happened before, and while the Democrats are far from clean, they are pikers compared to this crew. In fact, in their zeal to shut the Demos out of the perks of power, Rove, DeLay and Abramoff have demonstrated once again the Law of Unitended Consequences. With corporate donors now favoring the GOP by a two-to one margin, DNC chair Howard Dean is raising unprecedented amounts of money from small individual donors. Whether or not this allows Democrats to position themselves as the party of reform remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the wheels of justice will continue to grind slowly over Jack and his cronies. And in less than a year, we’ll get to see what the voters think about this whole mess. If they ever get to hear about it, that is.

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