Abramoff's Crimes Sign of Deeper Cesspool
Top Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is set to sing, and his long list of former buddies in Congress and the Bush Administration are quaking in anticipation of possible indictments stemming from the consummate Beltway hustler's crass reign as the king of K Street.
"Casino Jack," a former head of the College Republicans and a "Pioneer"-grade fundraiser for the Bush 2000 campaign, pleaded guilty to three felony counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in D.C. yesterday and is set to appear in Florida today to plead guilty to fraud and conspiracy on separate charges. Abramoff and other defendants also must repay over $25 million to defrauded clients and $1.7 million to the IRS.
But most important for the nation is that Abramoff is now detailing the massive web of corruption he spun inside the Beltway which has already snared a top Bush official, procurement chief David H. Safavian, on charges of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation, and reportedly threatens dozens of other D.C. players.
"When this is all over, this will be bigger than any [government scandal] in the last 50 years, both in the amount of people involved and the breadth to it," Stan Brand, a former U.S. House counsel who specializes in representing public officials accused of wrongdoing, told Bloomberg News. "It will include high-ranking members of Congress and executive branch officials."
Some of the Wild West feel of this Beltway corruption was captured in Saturday's Washington Post expose, "The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail." It documents in chilling detail how, among other scams, Abramoff funneled a portion of the millions he had been skimming from Indian casino operators with a cool million from two Russian energy moguls through a shell organization called the U.S. Family Network -- and from there into the coffers of politicians in a position to help his clients.
Ironically touting its commitment to "moral fitness" for the nation, the front group with the multi-million dollar budget had a single staff member housed in the backroom of a capital townhouse it owned and rented out to other organizations linked to Abramoff and Tom DeLay -- the latter's staffers called it, ominously, DeLay's "safe house." This is apparently why DeLay felt the need to tout the U.S. Family Network in a 1999 fundraising letter as "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control."
It was run by Edwin A. Buckham, DeLay's former chief of staff, whose lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, carried Delay's wife Christine on its payroll. But the moral "fitness" of such cronyism pales in comparison to the scandal of how Abramoff drummed up support for his varied clients under the cover of conservative morality.
For example, in order to block the ambitions of a rival tribe to the Choctaw Indians who had paid Abramoff millions, the U.S. Family Network sent a mailing to Alabama residents warning shrilly that, "The American family is under attack from all sides: crime, drugs, pornography, and one of the least talked about but equally as destructive -- gambling. We need your help today to prevent the Poarch Creek Indians from building casinos in Alabama." The letter conveniently failed to mention, however, that the U.S. Family Network had received at least $250,000 from the gambling proceeds of the Choctaws.
In another scam detailed in the Post story (which could be quickly optioned by Hollywood for a thriller), players in the mafia-dominated Russian energy industry slid a cool $1 million payment through a now-defunct London law firm into the U.S. Family Network's account -- which was, de facto, a slush fund for the Abramoff-DeLay network.
Citing the Rev. Christopher Geeslin, who served as a titular leader of the U.S. Family Network, the Post reported that Buckham told the reverend the payment was intended to secure Delay's support on legislation forcing the International Monetary Fund to bail out the faltering Russian economy without demanding the country raise taxes on its energy and other profitable industries. Right on cue, DeLay found his way onto Fox News Sunday to take up the Russian's viewpoint: "They are trying to force Russia to raise taxes at a time when they ought to be cutting taxes in order to get a loan from the IMF," he said. "That's just outrageous." The IMF backed down.
This is just an initial peek into the sordid world being revealed by Abramoff and two of his key cronies now spilling the beans to federal investigators. But in the bigger picture, what we are witnessing is the death throes of the GOP "revolution" which once promised to restore morality to Washington but instead sank far deeper into the cesspool of corruption.