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Jack be nimble

Books | The new Jack Abramoff is repentant, boastful, and challenging of Ralph Reed's forthrightness

Jack Abramoff's Capitol Punishment (WND Books, 2011) has as its subtitle The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist.

In it "the most evil lobbyist ever" (that's from his back cover) is candid about why congressional staffers immediately returned his phone calls: He casually offered to hire them at triple their salary at a later date. He also offered golf trips, big bundled donations to legislators' campaign funds and favorite charities, and double suites at FedEx Field to watch the Redskins (some years he spent $1.5 million on event tickets).

Capitol Punishment is Abramoff's post-prison appeal for redemption, but it's also an oddly defiant and boastful confession: On his November book tour he told me he wants to undo the perception that he was a "walking Death Star" who "with a mere flick of my wallet could undo any problem in Washington," but his book describes in detail how his lobbying saved his tribal clients "hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars." He wants to make up for his past: He's Jewish, believes in "the Almighty," and says, "We can repent, and we can turn around, and we can try to get it right."

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Might Washington undo the problem of lobbying? Abramoff says Congress would have to ban all contributions and favors-not so much as a sandwich-from lobbyists to legislators and their staffs, and lock the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street: No more hiring ex-congressmen and staffers as lobbyists. To make that happen will require a massive voter rebellion, he admits.

Evangelical readers will be particularly interested in Abramoff's relations with Ralph Reed, who between 1999 and 2002 was Abramoff's go-to guy for rousing Christians to oppose new casinos so the established casinos wouldn't face competition. Several Indian bands with their own casinos paid Abramoff and partner Mike Scanlon an astonishing $85 million to lobby against unfavorable legislation and proposals for competing gambling operations. They threw some of that to Reed, who rallied Christians to kill casino proposals without revealing to them that he and his firm were getting millions from Abramoff's tribal clients.

That came to light only after federal authorities investigated Abramoff and Scanlon for fraud, bribery, and other crimes in 2005, producing criminal charges against dozens of Washington figures. Ohio Rep. Bob Ney went to jail for 17 months, Abramoff for 42. Reed never faced corruption charges, but his work for Abramoff lost him a 2006 run for lieutenant governor of Georgia and much of his credibility among Christian conservatives. Reed is now making a comeback with his Faith and Freedom Coalition.

When the scandal broke, Reed declined WORLD's interview requests. In written statements at the time he said he relied on assurances from Abramoff and his law firms that he would not be paid with gambling money. Reed claimed he was told that Abramoff's tribal clients had other sources of income. Reed conceded, "I should have been clear with religious leaders that the law firm for which I worked had tribal clients who had their own reasons for opposing casino expansion."

But, I asked in a recent interview, if he believed that his actions were ethical, including his distinction between gambling and non-gambling tribal money, why wasn't he "clear" with religious leaders about the money's sources? "We didn't share more at the time because our firm's policy is not to discuss our clients or the work we do on their behalf," he said, and his firm's standard contract includes a confidentiality agreement. "In this case that was obviously a mistake."

That was obviously "dissembling," Abramoff told me. Reed's personal opposition to gambling was "evident every day that we worked together," Abramoff said, but he stated that Reed clearly knew where the money was coming from and why. Reed, he said, should have made the case to his allies that opposing gambling was a great use of gambling money and that without those funds "there would have been a line of eight new casinos stretching from Texas to Georgia."

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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