“This could be the Enron of lobbying.” So shuddered one of Jack Abramoff’s toadies when the big man was busted—rightly so, as National Journal reporter Stone shows.
Stone has been following the Abramoff story for awhile, though the Washington Post beat him to the juiciest scoops, the ones that made Abramoff well known outside his immediate circle of Republican politicians, operatives and funding sources. Yet Stone does yeoman work in assembling all the damning evidence a reader could want. When Abramoff—whose downfall came after he got more than a little too greedy with the Indian tribes whose interests he was ostensibly advancing on the Hill—was a flack for the College Republicans, back in the ’80s, he stuck the Republican National Committee for $100,000 in bills that were rightfully his. He was upbraided by the RNC chair, who recalls, “I told him you can’t be trusted. It was a good indicator of what a scuz he was.” Ah, yes, but that was before Abramoff became a confidant of Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and other far-right Republican stalwarts. It was also, apparently, before Abramoff learned the fine art of playing both sides of a game: When an Indian casino deal unfolded, it turns out he was lobbying for one tribe while lobbying against that tribe on behalf of yet another tribe. (An Orthodox Jew, he also pitched a lobbying deal to the government of Sudan, erstwhile host of Osama bin Laden.) Abramoff’s web-weaving became legendary: He and his associates brought millions into the hands of the Republican Party and such important players as Tom DeLay and Conrad Burns. And for years, he had enough influence to make sure that, say, workers in the Northern Marianas went poorly paid and that Indian claims went unrecognized—pocketing millions on millions all the while.
Both symptom and disease, Abramoffian wheeling and dealing continues on K Street. With luck, this lively little study will help inspire reforms.