An Idiot's Guide to the Abramhoff Scandal
Here's a concise little article I found that deftly sums up how disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's arrest (and his willingness to testify against GOP co-conspirators) will cause the GOP stranglehold on America to crumble.
I made bold the second to the last paragraph, just because I loved it so much.
The man with the inside track now persona non grata
By Rupert Cornwell
The New Zealand Herald
WASHINGTON - The wood-panelled restaurant Jack Abramoff owned on Pennsylvania Ave, where he wined and dined his pals in Congress, now stands shuttered and empty.
The millions of dollars he showered on the politicians in campaign contributions are being hastily turned over to charities. But official Washington will not be rid of him so easily.
Barely two years ago, Abramoff was the uncrowned king of the Washington lobbying industry. Now he is the central figure in the biggest political sleaze scandal in the US in a generation - a morass of kickbacks, fraud, influence peddling and bribery that could bring down some of the biggest names on Capitol Hill.
Last week his disgrace was complete. The erstwhile super-lobbyist shuffled out of a Washington courthouse just four blocks from his Signatures restaurant, after completing a plea bargain with federal prosecutors.
The young Jack Abramoff first made his name as chairman of the College Republicans. He went to Hollywood and produced a couple of movies, before riding into Washington on the crest of the Republican takeover of Congress at the 1994 mid-term elections.
With his College Republican friends, the conservative Christian leader Ralph Reed, and the tax-cutting Grover Norquist, he was part of a powerful network that expanded to include ambitious Texas Congressman Tom DeLay. Lobbying is about money and access - and in both Abramoff had the inside track. DeLay was his crucial contact and ally. Simultaneously, Abramoff struck a financial gusher, in the shape of six Indian tribes ready to spend mega-dollars to protect their lucrative casino gambling interests.
With his sidekick Michael Scanlon, Abramoff got US$80 million from the tribes to advance their cause in Washington. Some of the Indian money they kept, some they used to shower favours on congressmen, some they used to show they were very powerful people.
Abramoff counted Pakistan's military among his many clients. His pace was frenetic, yet he found time to set up ventures including Signatures and a Jewish prep school. By the end of the decade, he ran a veritable industry of influence-peddling.
Abramoff kept four luxury skyboxes at DC-area sports arenas, where he held 72 fundraising events - mostly for Republicans - between 1999 and 2003. In an average year, Signatures provided US$80,000 worth of free meals for his chums; for the most favoured there were trips to St Andrews and other shrines of golf, organised by Abramoff and paid for by the tribes.
The tawdry saga came out at hearings in early 2004, complete with emails from Abramoff and Scanlon describing their tribal clients as "monkeys" and "troglodytes".
The FBI started an investigation, and in late 2005 Scanlon struck a plea bargain, fingering Abramoff. To reduce a possible 30-year sentence to a maximum of 11, Abramoff followed suit, admitting tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy to bribe and agreeing to co-operate with prosecutors. In other words, he'll name names. The FBI is believed to be probing at least 20 members of Congress and senior aides.
Abramoff's confession has turned on the kitchen light in the middle of the night. The cockroaches are scuttling for cover, handing back money and repeating, mantra-like: "Jack Abramoff? I never knew him."
But heads will roll. Among them is DeLay, who yesterday confirmed his role as House majority leader is over.
In 2000, he accepted an Abramoff trip to Scotland. So in 2002 did the Republican congressman Bob Ney, who is set to be ousted from his chairmanship of a powerful House committee - and possibly worse. Dennis Hastert, the Speaker, has hastily given the US$69,000 of funding he received from Abramoff to a fortunate charity, but it may not be enough to save him.
The scandal hardly brushes George Bush. But it could yet be a disaster for the President. Most of those involved are Republicans, and voters could punish the party by handing control of Congress back to the Democrats at this autumn's mid-term elections. That in turn would allow Democrat-controlled hearings into Iraq and other embarrassments, making Bush's final two years in office a misery.
By then Abramoff will likely be behind bars. Back when he was the star, a colleague sensed the disaster that lay ahead. Be more careful, he warned Abramoff, or he would be "dead, disgraced, or in jail". The second prediction has been fulfilled. The third will be.
As for the first, suffice it to quote Conrad Burns, a Republican senator: "Frankly, I wish Jack Abramoff had never been born."