On Jan. 3, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three felony counts of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., while accepting a reduced 10-year sentence in return for testifying against former associates. -- The deal "could end up implicating dozens of lawmakers and their staffers in his corruption," the Forward reported in an article posted on its web site Thursday. -- "Abramoff was arguably the most prominent symbol of Orthodox Judaism in GOP power circles," wrote E.J. Kessler. -- "But he was not a major force within the capital's most influential Jewish organizations, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerhouse pro-Israel lobby known as AIPAC, or even outright GOP-aligned Jewish groups, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition. -- Instead his influence stemmed from decades-long relationships with conservative political operatives, including former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, as well as later ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay." -- In the history of Washington corruption intrigues, Abramoff's stands out for its Tartuffish perfume of piousness. -- "As Abramoff's troubles unfolded, starting in late 2003, he and his defenders put forth the view that his need for money was driven by a desire to give to charity, reporter Kessler recounted. -- "'I have spent years giving away virtually everything I made,'' he said in an interview last year with the New York Times Magazine. "'Frankly, I didn't need to have a kosher delicatessen. That was money I could have bought a yacht with. I don't live an extravagant lifestyle. I felt that the resources coming into my hands were the consequence of God putting them there.' . . . Unfortunately for Abramoff, his own e-mails, subpoenaed by federal investigators, left a different impression. 'Can you smell money ! ! !' he wrote in one. 'I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!!' he wrote in another, even as he was deriding his Indian clients as 'morons' and 'troglodytes.' In other e-mails, Abramoff directed an associate to represent Eshkol Academy as a 'front group' and 'conduit' for their lobbying activities." -- It is said that Abrahamoff was introduced to Tom DeLay by Daniel Lapin, the South African-born Orthodox rabbi who gave the invocation at the Republican National Convention in 1996 and who led Toward Tradition, a social conservative group based outside of Seattle who argues "that Jews should return to a 'biblical faith' and ally themselves politically with Evangelical Christians because of their moral qualities and support for Israel." -- The New York Times reported that one Congressional staffer said that there are "people who have longstanding careers in Congress" who are "panicked." -- Oddly, the New York Times analysis failed to mention the Lapin-Abramoff-DeLay connection, or even the fact that Abramoff is Jewish....
FELONY PLEA OF GOP LOBBYIST SETS D.C. PLAYERS SCRAMBLING
By E.J. Kessler
January 6, 2006
At the height of his influence as a high-flying Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff once boasted that his Washington, D.C., kosher deli would become a locus of Jewish power in the capital. But this week Jewish conservatives were joining most other Republicans in distancing themselves from the 46-year-old embattled lobbyist, after he pled guilty to felony charges of mail fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion in a deal that could end up implicating dozens of lawmakers and their staffers in his corruption.
The plea brings to an end the career of a swashbuckling figure that cut a high profile in Washington Republican circles and the capital-area Jewish community. A muscular man who sometimes sported a thin fringe of a beard, along with his shiny dark hair and a black suede yarmulke, Abramoff was arguably the most prominent symbol of Orthodox Judaism in GOP power circles. But he was not a major force within the capital's most influential Jewish organizations, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerhouse pro-Israel lobby known as AIPAC, or even outright GOP-aligned Jewish groups, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Instead his influence stemmed from decades-long relationships with conservative political operatives, including former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, as well as later ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
"Jack has always been a recognized Jew, but he's never been a recognized leader of the Jewish Republican movement," said Bruce Bialosky, a Jewish Republican activist and fundraiser in southern California who formerly led the Republican Jewish Coalition there. Abramoff, he said, always kept himself "separate."
Nowadays, Jewish Republicans and others are trying mightily to keep separate from Abramoff: A raft of them either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment for this article. "Everyone who was once asking him for money is now running for the hills," said one Washington observer.
Bialosky called Abramoff "a blight upon the Republican Party and the Jewish people" and said he was "personally offended" by Abramoff's actions. "I have no understanding of how this guy can plea bargain when he's the kingpin," Bialosky said.
Abramoff, whose work on behalf of Indian gaming interests netted him and an associate $82 million and prompted an investigation by at least two Senate committees and several federal agencies, pled guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington. Investigators are looking into whether Abramoff bribed public officials, including DeLay and another Republican congressman, Rep. Robert Ney of Ohio, in what is being seen in Washington as the largest public corruption scandal in recent memory.
Abramoff also reached a plea agreement this week in a tangentially related fraud case involving a fleet of casino boats he bought with a partner in Florida. Prosecutors said the federal charges could have gained Abramoff a 30-year sentence, but his testimony in the corruption probe would likely reduce it to nine to 11 years. The Florida charges could yield a term of seven years. As part of his federal plea, Abramoff agreed to restitute $25 million to the victims of his crimes and to pay a $1.7 million tax bill.
"Your honor, words will not be able to ever express how sorry I am for this, and I have profound regret and sorrow for the multitude of mistakes and harm I have caused," Abramoff said in court. "All of my remaining days, I will feel tremendous sadness and regret for my conduct and for what I have done. I only hope that I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to suffer. I will work hard to earn that redemption."
In 2002, Abramoff started two short-lived kosher eateries -- the Archives restaurant and Stacks deli -- and a now-defunct Orthodox day school for boys, the Eshkol Academy. Abramoff touted Stacks, then the only kosher deli in the District of Columbia, as the center for Jewish power lunches in the capital. He also was a part-owner of a non-kosher Washington restaurant, Signatures.
Signatures and Stacks became fodder for newspaper exposés when it came to light that the establishments had failed to bill lawmakers for events they had held there, creating possible violations of election law on the lawmakers' parts. The Eshkol Academy and a charity Abramoff started to help fund it, the Capital Athletic Foundation, have received repeated scrutiny in lawmakers' probes of Abramoff's alleged tax evasion and money laundering.
"This is very sad, personally and communally," said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Chabad's Washington representative. "People always deserve the presumption of innocence. Obviously, that is no longer an option here."
Abramoff, a father of five, reportedly was introduced to his wife Pamela by Reed, then a leader of the Christian Coalition with whom she worked. She converted to Orthodox Judaism.
Abramoff lived his early years in southern New Jersey but later moved to Beverly Hills, where he became religious as a teenager. He went to college at Brandeis University, and to law school at Georgetown University, launching his career in political life by becoming head of the national College Republicans. It was through that group that he met Reed and Norquist, two activists who would be crucial to his later lobbying efforts. He lobbied first at the Washington firm Preston Gates and later at Greenberg Traurig, which he left in 2004 amid much acrimony.
As Abramoff's troubles unfolded, starting in late 2003, he and his defenders put forth the view that his need for money was driven by a desire to give to charity. "I have spent years giving away virtually everything I made,'' he said in an interview last year with the *New York Times Magazine*. ''Frankly, I didn't need to have a kosher delicatessen. That was money I could have bought a yacht with. I don't live an extravagant lifestyle. I felt that the resources coming into my hands were the consequence of God putting them there." A *Business Week* interview with Abramoff's criminal lawyer, Abbe Lowell, noted that Lowell had met Abramoff because of their common interest in Jewish charitable causes.
Abramoff made a bid in the early 1990s to become a major player in the mainstream Republican Jewish Coalition, but he was rebuffed by the group's executive director, Matt Brooks, according to several people involved with the organization. "Matt looked at him as competition," said one. Brooks did not return a call seeking comment.
Abramoff's main contribution to national Jewish communal causes was a stint in the 1990s as chairman of Toward Tradition, a social conservative group based outside of Seattle that frequently criticizes the Jewish community's liberal majority and many of its more-established organizations. Toward Tradition, led by a South African-born Orthodox rabbi, Daniel Lapin, made its mark by becoming a leading proponent of the idea that Jews should return to a "biblical faith" and ally themselves politically with Evangelical Christians because of their moral qualities and support for Israel.
It was Lapin, in fact, who introduced Abramoff to DeLay, according to press accounts. In addition, Lapin's brother David served for a time as headmaster of the Eshkol school and as a business consultant on a contract with the government of the Northern Marianas Islands, which has said the work was not carried out.
Abramoff evidently sought to use Toward Tradition for self-aggrandizing purposes. In e-mails sent to Lapin in 2000, Abramoff asked that the organization create a "scholar of Talmud studies" award and present it to him. The request came to light last July during hearings of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which investigated Abramoff's bilking of Indian tribes. Lapin told the Forward at the time that his seemingly positive response to the request was meant in jest. He also said he had no knowledge of Abramoff's misdeeds while they were going on. This week, he did not respond to a request for comment on Abramoff's plea.
Once the religious right's favorite rabbi, Lapin has seen his fortunes decline in national GOP circles since 1996, when he gave an invocation at the Republican National Convention, Republican insiders said. Abramoff's troubles "should finish him off," one added.
Abramoff's plea is not likely to result in any increase of antisemitism either among the public at large or among Republicans, Jewish activists said. A Diageo-Hotline poll taken last month of 813 registered voters showed that 72% had no idea of who Abramoff was.
The Washington representative of the Orthodox Union, Nathan Diament, said that last year he had asked Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, whether McCain thought that Abramoff's corruption would cause Americans to think poorly of the Orthodox community as a whole. McCain "dismissed [the idea] out of hand," Diament said. "He said Americans know better than that. They don't hold an individual's misbehavior against the entire group."
TREMORS ACROSS WASHINGTON AS LOBBYIST TURNS STAR WITNESS
Bt Sheryl Gay Stolberg
New York Times
January 4, 2006
WASHINGTON -- As a high-flying Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff has long been known as a mover and shaker in Washington. But when he cut a deal with federal prosecutors on Tuesday, he shook up this town as never before.
Not long ago, Mr. Abramoff was perhaps Washington's most aggressive -- and, at $750 an hour, most highly compensated -- deal maker, a flamboyant man who moved fluidly through the nexus of money and power. Now his decision to cooperate in a broadening corruption and bribery investigation has thrust him into the role of a corporate insider turning against the company that claimed just to be doing business as usual.
Even before Mr. Abramoff left the federal courthouse on Tuesday in a trench coat and fedora, nervous lawmakers of both parties, and even the White House, began trying to distance themselves from him.
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois announced that he would donate to charity $69,000 in campaign contributions directed to him by Mr. Abramoff.
The plea bargain also had immediate ripple effects for a lawmaker who was once Mr. Abramoff's closest ally in the Republican leadership, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas. Mr. DeLay, indicted on a count of money laundering in a separate campaign-related case in Texas, is trying to regain his post as House majority leader, but Mr. Abramoff's plea complicates his prospects.
Mr. Abramoff, 46, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion, and prosecutors said he used campaign contributions, lavish trips, meals, and other perks to influence lawmakers and their aides. Court papers filed on Tuesday singled out just one member of Congress, "Representative No. 1," identified elsewhere as Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio.
But that was cold comfort on Capitol Hill, where there was a sense of lawmakers and lobbyists' waiting for the other shoe to drop. In a city whose history is rife with scandal and the political price it exacts, from the F.B.I. sting operation known as Abscam to the savings and loans collapse involving "the Keating Five," some experts feared that the Abramoff investigation would eclipse all the rest.
While Mr. Abramoff is most closely linked to Republicans, even Democrats, many of whom also benefited from his largesse, acted skittish.
"We're talking about people who have longstanding careers in Congress who took contributions from somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew Jack Abramoff," said a Democratic Congressional aide who insisted on anonymity so as not to drag his boss into the scandal. "Now they're panicked. The hope is that this investigation will root out the wrongdoing without innocent people getting hit with the ricochet."
Mr. Abramoff's plea bargain is scary to Washington's power brokers precisely because he was so entangled with so many of them.
His ties to Grover G. Norquist, a leading conservative strategist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition who is now a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, date from his college days.
He once worked as a lobbyist alongside David H. Safavian, who was the head of the White House procurement office until just before his arrest last fall in the Abramoff investigation. And Mr. Abramoff's former personal assistant once worked for Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist.
At the White House, administration officials have been reluctant to comment on the case, referring questions to the Justice Department and declining to defend Mr. Safavian. But on Tuesday morning, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, denounced Mr. Abramoff's actions.
"What he is reportedly acknowledging doing is unacceptable and outrageous," Mr. McClellan said. "If laws were broken, he must be held to account and punished for what he did."
Some Democrats saw the plea bargain as good political news. They are trying to build their 2006 midterm campaigns around what they call the Republican "culture of corruption" and say Mr. Abramoff taps into that theme.
Minutes after his deal was announced, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which tries to help elect Democrats to Congress, trumpeted the news on its Web site. "Breaking News: Jack Abramoff to Plead Guilty," the headline said.
Publicly, Republicans insisted that they were not worried.
"I think there may have been some nervousness, but after reading the plea agreement today and seeing that only one person was named, there's got to be a little bit of relief out there," said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But privately, some said they were concerned that the Justice Department might try to interpret bribery statutes more broadly than in the past. They fear a lesser standard of proof could ensnare lawmakers, lobbyists and aides, current and former.
"There's a lot of talk coming out of various quarters that the Justice Department is going to pursue a different definition of bribery, meaning that if somebody were to give a gift or a campaign contribution in the same time period as a member took an official action, that in and of itself would constitute bribery," said a former Republican leadership aide who insisted on anonymity. "That scares the bejesus out of people."
A one-time Hollywood filmmaker, Mr. Abramoff began his rise in Republican power circles in the 1980's, when he was chairman of the College Republicans National Committee. His staff included Mr. Norquist and Mr. Reed.
In 1994, when the Republicans reclaimed the House after 40 years, Mr. Abramoff rose to power with them. He used his contacts with Mr. DeLay and other prominent Republicans to build a lucrative lobbying and business enterprise that, at its peak, included a fancy restaurant, Signatures, with a special kosher kitchen. His primary clients were Indian tribes, which he has now acknowledged bilking.
From complimentary meals at his restaurant to lavish golfing trips to Scotland, including one taken by Mr. Ney and another by Mr. DeLay, to lucrative skybox tickets at Washington sports events, Mr. Abramoff's largesse seemed to know no bounds.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks campaign contributions, he has directed more than $4.4 million since 1999 to candidates and campaign committees. The money came mostly from Mr. Abramoff's clients, but also directly from him and from a casino boat company that he once owned.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Mr. Hastert said the speaker would join a growing list of members of Congress who have returned or donated money given them by Mr. Abramoff.
"The speaker believes that while these contributions were legal, it is appropriate to donate the money to charity," said the spokesman, Ron Bonjean.
Mr. DeLay, whose former press secretary, Michael Scanlon, was Mr. Abramoff's business partner and has also been indicted in connection with the investigation, has been working furiously to resolve the Texas case before the House reconvenes on Jan. 31.
The intent was to clear his name and forestall any call for leadership elections. But Republicans say even a legal victory in Texas could be overshadowed by Mr. Abramoff's case.
A spokesman for Mr. DeLay said that the lawmaker had nothing to fear from Mr. Abramoff's plea and that it should not be a factor in whether he should resume his position as majority leader.
"Mr. DeLay has been very clear that all of his actions were properly vetted and they were promptly and publicly disclosed in accordance with House ethics rules," the spokesman, Kevin Madden, said. "So there is no reason for him to be concerned."
The investigation is prompting people inside and outside Congress to change their behavior.
Mr. Hastert has raised the possibility of new ethics training for lawmakers.
Paul Miller, president of the 700-member American League of Lobbyists, said lawmakers and lobbyists were "taking a step backward and assessing how they are doing business and how they are operating."
Even as Mr. Miller acknowledged that Mr. Abramoff's case had tarnished his industry, he took pains to dispute the idea that Mr. Abramoff deserved the description "superlobbyist," so often bestowed on him in a city where money and influence speak louder than words and where when the mighty fall they fall hard.
"Jack Abramoff," Mr. Miller said, "is nothing more than a supercrook."
--Carl Hulse contributed reporting for this article.