All the president’s men of Houston receive a powerful lashing in this soundly researched, only occasionally sarcastic exposé of high-level corruption by investigative journalist Anderson (Art Held Hostage: The Battle Over the Barnes Collection, 2003, etc.).
The author skillfully moves from the 15-block section of downtown Houston that anchors such corporate giants as Reliant Energy, Enron, Shell Oil, Dynegy Corp. and James A. Baker III’s Institute for Public Policy (at Rice University) to the power center of George W. Bush’s Washington. With the changing of the guard in Texas in 1994—when Governor Ann Richards was voted out and the mild-mannered George W. moved in (thanks to the behind-the-scenes machinations of Karl Rove)—the Republicans had a “pig roast.” And with the Republican surge came the right-wing Congressman Tom DeLay, who was seemingly innocuous until he became majority whip in 1995. A dangerous Republican trio was formed by Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, who gained access to DeLay through his chief of staff Ed Buckham. Together, they effectively worked as lobbyists for many dubious and (for them) lucrative enterprises, such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which would eventually pay Abramoff some $7.2 million in lobbying fees and provide the convenient off-site location for U.S. Family Network (USFN), DeLay’s “grassroots” organization used for political contributions and money laundering. Another pet lobby was the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which paid Abramoff grandly to lobby against the proposed federal tax on Indian casino profits. Anderson ably chronicles this incredible tale of unbridled greed in government by “Casino Jack” and “DeLay, Inc.” and follows the money trail through the infamous 2000 presidential election recount and the rigging of justice over the war in Iraq. The trail leads to Texas cronies Dick Cheney, Jim Baker and Alberto Gonzales, who all get a thrashing here, though Anderson falls short of indicting the president, who is chastised for his lack of “oversight.”
A dizzying read, but a timely and important work.