Jack Abramoff’s autobiographical bombshell “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist” isn’t even at the bookstores yet, but it’s already causing a firestorm on Capitol Hill and among Washington’s powerful lobbying community.
Most Washington power players thought Abramoff was gone and buried in a federal prison, and didn’t even realize he was released – let alone that he was penning what is clearly the most devastating attack on special interest power in decades. The book is not due on the shelves until Monday, but scores of lobbying shops are scouring the town to obtain one of the few copies in circulation to prepare their spin and damage control.
From the reaction on Capitol Hill, Abramoff is the new public enemy No. 1. He not only outs powerful senators and congressmen, and reveals previously unknown inside information, but he sets forth a reform plan which would rock the fraternal inside-the-Beltway culture.
Yesterday, lobbying firms were huddling to coordinate an attack on Abramoff, while press secretaries of Congress members named in the book are churning out counter-attacks as quickly as they can. And an executive at a major PR firm panicked that Abramoff’s book has “press flacks all over the city scrambling this morning.”
But official Washington does not have the option of ignoring Hurricane Jack, since he will be featured on :60 Minutes” on Sunday, the “Today” show and Sean Hannity (radio and TV) on Monday, CNN’s Piers Morgan on Tuesday, “Fox & Friends” Wednesday, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Thursday and much more.
CBS is already promoting Abramoff’s revelations with this clip from Sunday night’s “60 Minutes” interview:
In the interview, Abramoff characterizes congressional efforts to end lobbying corruption in Washington as “faux reform,” citing “improved” rules that prohibit a lobbyist from taking a congressman out for a $25 hamburger lunch, but allow him to take the same congressman to a “fundraising event” and give him $25,000.
“The people who made the reforms … are the people in the system,” he said. “The system hasn’t been cleaned up at all,” he tells Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes.”
Publicists for Abramoff’s book report being flooded with requests for advance copies, to the point of being approached at 9 p.m. with a massive box of candy as an offering.
Among the revelations that already have surfaced and the reaction they have elicited:
- At The Hill, Kevin Bogardus quotes Abramoff discussing his massive program to get tickets to special events, such as Washington Redskins’ NFL games, and delivering them to those he wanted to influence: “Our seemingly unlimited ability to dispense sports and concert tickets to the [Capitol] left scores of representatives and staff thinking we were Ticketmaster. For their purposes, we were.”
Bogardus reports Abramoff “paints an ugly picture of the lobbying industry in ‘Capitol Punishment,’ arguing that everyone on Capitol Hill and K Street is complicit in a system of favors and influence-peddling.”
- Politico reports Abramoff’s prison sentence for cheating clients of lobbying fees and bribing lawmakers and staffers with lavish gifts enlightened him as to how to eliminate the problem: ban lobbyists from making campaign donations or giving any gifts.
“No finger food, no snacks, no hot dogs. Nothing,” he writes. “If you choose public service, choose it to serve the public, not your bank account. When you’re done serving, go home. Get a real job.”
- Politico’s MJ Lee also reported that Abramoff recalled having “100 congressmen in his pocket.”
- The Huffington Post reported Abramoff “attacks the people he feels wronged him, particular the members of the Senate Indian Affairs committee, whose blistering 2006 report exposed the extent of Abramoff’s corruption.”
The report says Abramoff calls the committee’s chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as “classic narcissist,” while he said former Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., “hurled invectives” at him, even though he took “$25,000 in campaign checks” from him. The report said Campbell called the narrative a lie.
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Abramoff also suggests government workers should be banned – for life – from lobbying their former coworkers and others in government.
- MediaBistro cites the description of Abramoff as “a perfect bundle of contraditions: an Orthodox Jew and upstanding family man with a staunch moral streak, caught in multiple scandals of bribery and corruption with an undercurrent of murder.”
- CBS’ own promotion said Abramoff’s reaction to new ethics reform laws approved by Congress was one of disdain.
The report shows him saying lobbyists are arrogant and will always have the attitude that “We’re smarter than they are and we’ll overcome it.”
CBS calls the book as “a buyer’s guide to purchasing influence in Washington.”
Abramoff told CBS bribery is “done every day and it’s still being done.” And he said the fastest and surest method was to promise of a future, high-paying job to a member’s top staffers.
“Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to them, that was it. We owned them. … Every request … of our clients, everything that we want, they’re going to do. Not only that, they’re going to think of things we can’t think of to do.”
- At the Say Anything Blog, Rob Port cut to the chase with a disturbing comment: “The truth is that the key to limiting government corruption is to limit government power. The less influence politicians have to sell to people like Abramoff and/or their clients the less corruption it will be. Think of government as a sort of protection racket run by organized crime. Lobbyists facilitate tribute payments to the local bosses in exchange for favors. The more power the government has to sell, the bigger the tribute payments and the more need for lobbyists.”
- The TPMMuckraker related how Abramoff said he was the one who convinced the Redskins to turn their prime stadium seating being used for reporters into private boxes for the wealthy, relegating reporters to the stratosphere.
The scandals triggered by Abramoff led to the convictions of 20 people for payoffs in exchange for political favors, including Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohaio. Abramoff was released in June after nearly fours years in federal prison.
Published by WND Books, “Capitol Punishment” also reveals that Abramoff is “a smart, funny, charming, clear-eyed narrator who confounds every expectation of the media’s villainous portrait.” Adds the publisher: “While he is the villain in the black fedora hat to most of the world, this narrative unearths Abramoff, the human being – tortured, troubled, guilt-ridden, broken, sorrowful, penitent. There are lessons in this book for all – a compelling and redemptive story.”