News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Tom DeLay's Moral Relativism and GOP Army of Ethical Corruption

by Melanie Sloan, Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

Open up a national daily or watch a cable talk show and you'd think that House Democrats have been committing ethics violations just as serious and as frequently as those committed by House Republicans. Of course, that's what's House Republicans want you to think, but the truth is that it's a comparison between apples and oranges.

While House Republicans and their colleagues are under federal investigation for breaking federal laws, their Democratic counterparts are being skewered in the press for trip reporting lapses. Hardly the same category of offense. But that doesn't stop Members of Congress like Representative Jack Kingston (R-NY) from claiming that "Democrats have just as many substantive questions."

Simply put, this is not true.

Let's look at the news this morning. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham has decided not to run for re-election. He is now the subject of a grand jury investigation into whether he took bribes from Mitchell Wade and Wade's defense contracting firm. MZM, Inc. Cunningham sold his San Diego home to Wade for approximately $700,000 over market value and in Washington, Cunningham has been living rent-free aboard Wade's yacht, the Duke Stir. In exchange for Wade's largesse, Cunningham has assisted MZM in securing tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts.

Unlike Rep. Cunningham, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) has barely acknowledged his egregious violations.

In 2002 after scandal-plagued Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked with Christian activist Ralph Reed to close the casino of the El Paso, Texas, Tigua Indian tribe, Abramoff persuaded the tribe to hire him to lobby Congress to reopen the casino. Shortly after Abramoff met with Ney to ask him to push the legislation, the Tigua - by overnight mail - sent three checks to Ney's political committees, totaling $32,000. The apparent exchange of campaign contributions in return for Ney's support of an amendment to reopen the Tigua's casino could constitute bribery.

In addition, e-mail exchanges between Abramoff and the Tigua's political consultant show that Ney solicited the Tigua to pay for part of a 2002 golf trip to Scotland, although solicitation of travel is specifically prohibited by House rules. Shortly after Ney returned from Scotland, he was scheduled to meet with members of the Tigua tribal council. Prior to that meeting, Abramoff reminded the Tigua that "for obvious reasons" the golf trip would not be mentioned at the meeting, but that Ney show his appreciation "in other ways," which was, Abramoff pointed out, just what the tribe wanted. Although the tribe never ended up paying for the golf trip, Ney's attempt to tie the gift of the trip to the legislative assistance the tribe was seeking likely violates federal criminal law.

Compare those abuses with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) ethics rules violations. Earlier this month, Rep. Pelosi filed delinquent reports for three trips valued at a total of $8,580 (one for $8040, one for $200 and one for $350) and which occurred as long as seven years ago. Congresswoman Pelosi is one of a large number of House members to amend travel reports as a result of the recent increased scrutiny of lawmaker travel.

Pelosi's lapsed reporting. A violation? Yes. One that merits a comparison to Republican actions? Not really.

Similarly, last May, as reported by Media Matters for America, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Fox News' Brit Hume both accused Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) of going on a trip to Puerto Rico they claimed was funded by lobbyists, thereby flouting the same ethics rule that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has been accused of violating. Scarborough also criticized House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) for participating in the same trip. But the April 20, 2005 Washington Times article that both Hume and Scarborough cited as the basis for their allegations provides strong evidence that lobbyists did not in fact pay for the 2001 trip to Puerto Rico.

The Washington Times article noted that a Jones spokeswoman stated that the listing of the lobbying firm Smith Dawson & Andrews on disclosure forms was the result of "human error."

The spokeswoman for Jones added that the advocacy organization Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques (TPRV) sponsored the trip and hired Smith Dawson to handle logistics. That claim is supported by James P. Smith, a managing partner at Smith Dawson & Andrews; according to the Times, Smith "denied that his firm paid for Mrs. Jones' travel. He offered to place his hand on the Bible." Furthermore, the Times noted that other House members who attended the trip, including Pelosi, listed TPRV -- not Smith Dawson -- as the trip's sponsor. Unlike lobbying firms, "private groups, such as Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques ... are allowed to fund trips," the Times noted.

So, Rep. Tubbs-Jones made an error in filling out her travel forms. Tom DeLay's travel, on the other hand, actually was paid for by a lobbyist - Jack Abramoff.

This is not to say that Democrats are squeaky clean. They are not. For example, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) should be investigated for the over million dollars her family has made in the last eight years by doing business with companies, candidates and causes that Waters has helped.

When members of either party break violate ethics rules and laws they need to be held accountable. It is irresponsible, however, to compare serious violations to minor transgressions or even simple clerical mistakes. Comparing wrongs rather than addressing them does not forward the democratic process. We hope for a change - or in the meantime - some reporting and analysis that actually reflects reality.


Bush, colleagues lose trust in Plame game

Ellis Henican/NY Newsday

July 17, 2005

The war in Iraq grinds depressingly on, with few signs of progress and no end in sight.

The president's plea to privatize Social Security is obviously going nowhere.

And George W. Bush's chief political guru, the very architect of his successful re-election campaign, is looking increasingly like a felon, a liar or both.

Is it any wonder a growing trust gap has begun to separate America from its suddenly rattled second-term president?

Bush doesn't seem ready to face it head-on.

That's the vivid impression from the White House pool report filed by one correspondent Friday afternoon: "On the tarmac in North Carolina, your pool was able to walk briefly alongside the president and ask if he still had faith in Karl Rove. The question was met with a stare straight ahead, silence and a quick brush-off motion of Bush's left hand, as if the president were swatting away an insect."

Well, buzz-buzz-buzz! It'll take more than a little swat to make this buzzing go away!

Pick a poll, any poll. You'll find another swarm of evidence that more and more people are doubting Bush, especially his honesty and truthfulness.

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey - no bastion of left-wing negativism for sure - asked if people found Bush "honest and straightforward." Only 41 percent said yes, down 9 points since January. At the same time, those who said they doubt the president's truthfulness climbed to 45 percent from 36 percent.

This is a big red flag for any president, especially this one, whose personal connection to voters has been his secret weapon when his policies have gone awry.

"No, he hasn't caught Osama," countless Americans have grumbled over the past three years and 10 months. "But he seems like a nice, regular guy."

If that nice cushion is disappearing, Bush could be in real trouble soon.

Not so incidentally, this trust gap has begun to grow at the same time as Iraq has become peoples' No. 1 concern. In that NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 40 percent cited the war, higher even than the 34 percent who called jobs their first concern.

Now, add Karl Rove to the list of threats.

The facts are still fluid. But as the week wound to a close, it was looking increasingly certain that the president's political adviser and deputy chief of staff played at least some significant role in revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

And not only that: He'd done it for the lowest and most selfish motive imaginable - to extract political revenge against Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his public comments questioning the basis for the war in Iraq.

What could be uglier than that? What could be a worse violation of public trust?

Rove's defenses have gotten wobblier by the day. He's gone from he-didn't-do-it to the-media-did-it to he-doesn't-remember-exactly.

And Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, has been no help at all, offering up a whole series of contradictory assertions about what Rove supposedly told the grand jury - sometimes in the very same breath to the very same reporter.

Here's a typical one from the Washington Post: "I don't think that he has a clear recollection. He's told them that he believes he may have heard it from a journalist."

Now isn't that the double-barreled refuge of a cornered politico - blame the media and claim you can't remember?

Just imagine the uproar if this had been an aide in the Clinton White House.

Whether Rove broke the law remains an open question. The 1982 statute prohibiting the outing of U.S. intelligence agents is packed with loopholes and caveats.

But with each passing briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan is looking more and more like Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon's hapless mouthpiece during Watergate.

You almost have to feel sorry for him, as he keeps being forced to swallow his own words.

Back in September 2003, McClellan said it was "totally ridiculous" to think that Rove played any role in outing Plame. On Sept. 29, 2003, the press secretary said he'd "spoken with Karl Rove," and it was "simply not true" that Rove helped disclose her identity.

He added something else that he probably wishes he hadn't - a vow that any White House aide caught in such a leak would be fired.

Asked on June 10, 2004, if he stood by that vow, President Bush spoke with simple clarity. "Yes," he said.

Ah, trust!

Gaming scandal threatens conservatives

Gaming scandal threatens conservatives
Sunday, July 17, 2005
The Economist
In 1994, just as Newt Gingrich's Republicans were storming Capitol Hill, Christopher Buckley published his satirical novel "Thank You for Smoking." It featured an informal lunch club of Washington lobbyists, consisting of the chief spokesmen for three of the most despised pressure groups in the country - the Society for the Advancement of Firearms and Effective Training of Youth, the Moderation Council (formerly the National Association for Alcoholic Beverages), and the Academy of Tobacco Studies. The club happily marches under the name of "the Mod Squad," or the Merchants of Death.

The Mod Squad's antics look humdrum compared with the alleged antics of two of today's most famous influence-peddlers: Jack Abramoff and his side-kick, Michael Scanlon. They are not only accused of bilking six Indian tribes out of some $66 million, but of using the religious right to do it.

It should be stressed that despite congressional committees and a federal grand jury looking into their affairs, Abramoff and Scanlon insist they have behaved ethically. They have not been charged with any offenses. Nevertheless, according to their accusers, the story allegedly goes like this:

Abramoff was hired to protect various Indian tribes from sundry threats to their gambling interests - particularly the threat of competition from rival tribes. He then got prominent social conservatives to oppose the creation of rival casinos, ostensibly in the cause of protecting public morality. From 1999 to 2002, Abramoff-linked organizations paid around $4 million to a company run by Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, in order to organize a grass-roots campaign against a Texas tribe that wanted to compete with Abramoff's client, the Coushatta tribe in Louisiana. With amazing chutzpah, "Casino Jack" then turned to the defeated Texans and offered to champion their cause - for a fee.

According to Abramoff's accusers, the sheer success of his caper forced him to bend even more rules. He skirted the lobbying industry's disclosure laws by getting the tribes to make most of their payments to Scanlon, who was a public-relations specialist rather than a registered lobbyist. He persuaded the tribes to make generous contributions to leading congressmen and conservative groups. And he established a collection of front organizations such as the American International Center - a think-tank in the business of influencing "global paradigms in an increasingly complex world" and bringing "great minds together from all over the globe," which was housed a couple of blocks from the sea in Rehoboth Beach and employed as its two directors David Grosh, Rehoboth's "lifeguard of the year" in 1995, and Brian Mann, a former yoga instructor.

The Abramoff scandal has everything you could want from an inside-the-Beltway blockbuster. It has hypocrisy. What was Abramoff, a vigorous defender of traditional values, doing with gambling houses? Reed has not been accused of doing anything dishonest, but Christian conservatives in Georgia, where he is running for lieutenant governor, may ask him how he squares his association with Abramoff with his previous claim that gambling is a "cancer on the American body politic." It has racism. Abramoff allegedly called his clients "monkeys," "morons" and "troglodytes." And, above all, it has the potential to shake the Republican establishment to its foundations.

Investigating Abramoff and Scanlon is one of Washington's growth industries. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, headed by John McCain, is examining their treatment of Indians. The Senate Finance Committee is investigating their use of nonprofit organizations. The executive branch has put together a task force that draws from the Interior Department, the IRS, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Justice Department. The FBI reputedly has 30 agents on the case.

Abramoff has been at the center of the conservative movement for 25 years. His pals include not just Reed but Grover Norquist, the king of the anti-tax movement (and the executive director of the College Republicans when Abramoff was national chairman), and Tom DeLay, the troubled majority leader in the House. Abramoff helped to arrange some of DeLay's controversial foreign junkets. Scanlon used to work for DeLay.

Two things seem clear: First, the Republican revolutionaries who promised to purify Washington back in 1994 have changed the capital less than it has changed them. Many of Newt Gingrich's radicals are now making a good living exploiting the very government that they once despised. George Bush's presidency has seen the fraternity of lobbyists doubling in size, from 16,342 in 2000 to 34,785 today.

Second, the deepening association between Indians, gambling and politicians guarantees trouble. At a recent meeting of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, everybody was full of sympathy for Abramoff's Indian clients. But many of them are well heeled, thanks to those casinos. And they hired Abramoff to use the might of the government to crush the competition. The 1988 federal law that authorized casino gambling on Indian reservations was dependent on state laws. That created a sharp divide between winners and losers: Only two-thirds of America's 350 Indian tribes may tap into an industry with revenues of $15 billion a year. It also ensured that the tribes are permanently entangled with politics.

Even if he were eventually to take a tumble, Casino Jack may yet be able to reinvent himself. He has other strings to his bow, including restaurants, movie production ("Red Scorpion," starring Dolph Lundgren) and a long record of charitable work. What happens to the conservative movement is harder to say. The Economist magazine is published in London.

© 2005 The Birmingham News
© 2005 All Rights Reserved.


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