When Connected Becomes Corrupted
Crony capitalism is the name of the Republican game. Their slogan is "take care of your friends and leave the risks of the free market for the suckers." That would be John Q. Public.
From Halliburton's overcharging in Iraq to Enron's manipulation of the California energy crisis and now the emerging hurricane reconstruction boondoggle, we witness what happens when the federal government is turned into a glorified help desk and ATM machine for politically connected corporations.
But the defining case study on the deep corruption of the Bush administration and the GOP is emerging from the myriad investigations of well-connected Republican fundraiser and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. For starters, Abramoff, a $100,000-plus fundraiser for George W. Bush's presidential campaigns, is under federal indictment on wire fraud and conspiracy charges. He is also under congressional and FBI investigations.
In the last fortnight alone, the spreading stain of Abramoff's legacy is seen in the possible undoing of Bush's nominee to the nation's No. 2 law enforcement position, the resignation and arrest of the Office of Management and Budget's former procurement chief and another blow to the already tawdry reputation of top Bush political advisor Karl Rove.
It was reported last week that Timothy Flanigan, Tyco International Ltd. general counsel and Bush's nominee for deputy attorney general, stated that Abramoff's lobbying firm had boasted that his access to the highest levels of Congress could help Tyco fight tax liability legislation and that Abramoff later said he "had contact with Mr. Karl Rove" about the issue.
Flanigan's statement was in response to scathing criticism from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which is considering his nomination -- that he had not been sufficiently responsive in his testimony. Records and interviews show that Flanigan supervised Abramoff's successful efforts two years ago to lobby Congress to kill the legislation, which would have penalized companies such as Bermuda-based Tyco that avoid taxes by moving offshore. Abramoff's firm was paid $1.7 million by Tyco in 2003 and 2004.
In his statement, Flanigan said Abramoff also boasted of his ties to Tom DeLay, the House majority leader. DeLay once described Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends" and accompanied him on several foreign junkets. DeLay denies that the Abramoff-arranged trips were political favors. DeLay continues to be tangled in myriad ethics investigations, many of them linked to his relationship with Abramoff.
Another episode in the rapidly evolving Abramoff scandal involves David Safavian, one of the Bush administration's top federal procurement officials. He resigned shortly before being arrested last week for allegedly lying to officials and obstructing a Justice Department investigation in connection with his relationship with Abramoff. Safavian received a golf trip to Scotland with the lobbyist, allegedly as a quid pro quo for helping Abramoff in his efforts to buy federal properties. Safavian and Abramoff once worked together at a powerful Washington lobbying firm.
Before Safavian resigned, he reportedly was working on contracting policies for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Don't expect the GOP Congress to look askance at this. Safavian's wife is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees procurement matters, although she's said she'll recuse herself.
The hurricane season is proving to be a windfall for GOP-connected companies such as Halliburton, which are being rewarded with lucrative contracts despite their shoddy performance in Iraq. In the vocabulary of crony capitalism, the word "shame" does not exist.
The players may change, given the occasional criminal indictment, but the game goes on. On the day of Safavian's arrest, former Tyco Chief Executive L. Dennis Kozlowski was sentenced to eight to 25 years in prison for bilking millions from the company, which we are now expected to believe has been reborn virtuous.
Tyco's current lobbyist, Edward P. Ayoob, who once worked with Abramoff at a Washington law firm, is lobbying for another cause these days: Flanigan's confirmation as the nation's second-highest law enforcement officer. Ayoob insisted last week that he is acting on his own and not on behalf of Tyco. And, oh yes, Flanigan promises that, if confirmed, he will recuse himself from any Abramoff investigation involving Tyco. Sure.