Having pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and wire fraud in federal court in Florida, onetime super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff says he wants to do whatever he has to do to get the Feds to reduce the stiff seven-year sentence he’s facing, which means he’s willing to sit in the witness box and tell all.
His plea agreement specifically requires him to cooperate with the Feds in what has been called a broad corruption investigation into certain members of Congress.
Exactly what he’ll tell about his widespread lobbying activities in Washington and the Capitol Hill biggies he ran with for years is anybody’s guess, but the liberal media speculate (and hope) that his testimony could bring down some really big names despite the fact that very few members of Congress have been mentioned in connection with Abramoff’s generosity. The most prominent are Texas Republican Tom DeLay and Ohio Republican Bob Ney. In the Florida trial only Ney’s name came up.
It’s important to keep in mind that the Florida case involved some very shady doings in connection with a gambling cruise line he and two partners bought with financing obtained by outright fraud. Ney’s connection was mainly his inserting in the Congressional Record a couple of really servile speeches which were designed and written by Abramoff’s associates to aid him and his partners in their struggles get the loans they needed to buy the gambling cruise ship business.
Now the focus turns to Washington and the nature of Abramoff’s dealings with members of Congress whom he wined and dined in his D.C. restaurants, entertained in his football stadium skybox and in some cases took on lavish overseas junkets to such places as the storied links at St. Andrews in Scotland. He once arranged for a reported 85 lawmakers and some staff members to take all-expense-paid junkets in the late ’90s to the Northern Mariana Islands, clients of his law firm seeking to overcome some labor laws.
Nobody, however, has been able to produce evidence of a quid pro quo – of legislators being influenced by Abramoff’s generosity to perform improper services for him and his clients. Nobody has been singled out as having taken a single bribe.
The Feds hint darkly that they are now busy uncovering investigating an “extensive” corruption scheme but they have failed to reveal just how many, if any, lawmakers they have in their gun sights. The media, however, are speculating that as many as 50 or 60 may be under investigation for their dealings with Abramoff, but there haven’t been any details involving specific acts of alleged bribery.
Abramoff was the source of large campaign contributions, but that’s true of most big-time lobbyists. Contributions bring access to Congressional offices but never guarantee action. Lobbyists entertain and contribute to lawmakers they know from the record are sympathetic to their causes. They don’t have to buy their votes – they know they already have them. They make campaign contributions because they want to keep lawmakers friendly to their causes. That’s not bribery, it’s politics. You won’t find a lobbyist for the NRA giving money to an anti-gun legislator – it would be a waste of the client’s money.
Abramoff represented a lot of Indian tribes that run gambling casinos, and it has been said that he both misled his clients and misspent millions of their dollars. Hearings conducted by Sen. John McCain have dealt with Abramoff’s questionable dealings with his tribal clients. The hearings have shown that he billed six Indian tribes $66 million for his services. Feds are seeking to learn if the tribes were defrauded of any part of that money
This, however, is not where the Feds want to go. They’ve already got Abramoff. What they want now is proof of illegal activities by his Congressional contacts, and unless he can demonstrate quid pro pros – outright bribery – the Feds are probably going to fall short of their goal to bag some big-name legislators.
In the meantime, lawmakers who got campaign contributions from Abramoff are falling over each other in a rush to give the money back. There’s going to be a media firestorm, big names will be recklessly bandied about, and some members of Congress may lose their seats this year not because they took bribes, but because they unwisely accepted tokens of Abramoff’s generosity.
©2006 Mike Reagan. If you’re not a paying subscriber to our service, you must contact us to print or web post this column. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561.