Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Abramoff and friends

It appears safe to say now that Jack Abramoff may be in a little trouble. Some of his close, personal friends might be sweating a little tonight as well.

Jack Abramoff plead guilty to three felony charges (note: PDF) today "in a deal with federal prosecutors that helps clear the way for his testimony about members of Congress and congressional staffers in a wide-ranging political corruption investigation."

This agreement with federal authorities settles only one of two fraud and corruption cases against Abramoff. A second plea is expected regarding his indictment in Miami in the SunCruz casino fleet case. His partner in that case is also implicated in the gangland murder of former SunCruz owner Gus Boulis.

The Washington Post has compiled an extensive list of investigative articles and graphics detailing what is currently known of Mr. Abramoff's criminal enterprise.

UPDATE:Think Progress has a superb round up of the cast of characters.

The key players read like who's who of the inside of Republican Washington. Michael Scanlon, a partner of Abramoff that had already reached his own plea agreement, is a former press secretary for former Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay. Delay is already under indictment for political money laundering. Abramoff's partner in the SunCruz conspiracy, Adam Kidan, has known previous connections to one of the three mob hitmen indicted in the murder of former SunCruz owner, Gus Boulis, who Kidan is reported to have told, "I'm not going to sue you, I'm going to kill you" after a fist fight between the two.

Grover Norquist, one of the prime Republican movers and shakers in his role as founder and president of the conservative lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform, is reported to have laundered money for Abramoff through his group. They have been friends since their college Republican days, a connection they also have with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Susan Ralston, a former assistant to Karl Rove at the White House previously served as Abramoff's secretary and is suspected to be their go-between in the Abramoff's dealings in the Tyco case while at Greenberg Traurig. As if these things weren't sticky enough, in her role with Rove she is embroiled in the middle of the White House treason scandal.

And look who else pops up smack dab in the middle of the gambling pieces of this? None of other than the fundamentalist rights darling Ralph Reed.

Of particular note in the please agreement are the clear references to the likely criminal roles of spouses and staff members of House members. Spouses, their jobs and favorite charities, appear to be a favored way of funneling money without having to deal with sticky finance rules. Staff members such as former Delay aide Tony Rudy play prominent roles in illegally influencing members of congress. Numerous former Hill staffers end up working for Abramoff and others, like Rudy, run their own outfits that play integral roles in the conspiracy.

The Post correctly suggests that we follow the money and presents interesting graphics and timelines to help us keep score at home.

It is rumored that more than 20 members of congress are implicated in the Abramoff scandal. More than 200 members have received money from Abramoff, his clients, the companies (his restaurant Signatures and his Capital Athletic Foundation) he used in his enterprise, or the two lobbying firms he worked for Greenberg Traurig and Preston, Gates, and Ellis. Other organizations such as Liberty Consulting and the Alexander Group are also implicated. These last two being good examples of the roles congressional spouses and former staffers play.

It is clear that there are huge gaps in federal reporting and tracking requirements for gifts, entertainment, lobbying money, former staff relationships, family member reporting requirements, etc. Some of the activity being unearthed will probably not be found criminal in nature though certainly unethical in the extreme. It is hoped that reporting like the Washington Post has done will continue and that both the criminal and unethical conduct will be fully and fairly reported.

It is probably too much to ask that Congress will then pass appropriate laws and rules changes to better control such mis-behavior in the future.

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