November 16, 2011
Last night, I attended a book party for Jack Abramoff hosted by Daily Caller Publisher Tucker Carlson. Abramoff, if you haven’t heard, has a new book, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist. I went because I was curious. Who goes to a party to celebrate Abramoff’s accomplishments? Surely not the traditional Washington crowd for these things – members of Congress, congressional staff, lobbyists and other assorted politicos. After all, the Abramoff scandal was largely responsible for Republicans losing control of Congress in 2006.
I also wanted to meet the man. CREW had been quick to recognize the problems with Abramoff’s conduct and his reach in Congress. We had a website, jackinthehouse.org, detailing the lobbyist’s connections to myriad members of Congress. We had pushed Congress to consider an ethics complaint against Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), the only lawmaker eventually charged in the scandal, and we had been strongly critical of other members, including Reps. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and John Doolittle (R-CA) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), all of whom are, thankfully, now out of Congress.
Tucker’s house is lovely and his charming wife and children were at the door greeting guests. I overheard one of their neighbors ask if others from area would be attending and Tucker responded that they would not; they were offended by the party and had discovered previous engagements. Many of those present worked for the Daily Caller and a few were there from the Weekly Standard. There were also reporters – from the New York Times, Washington Post and Talking Points Memo – who came to cover the event. Tucker explained he had not previously known Abramoff, but felt the town was awfully hypocritical in judging the disgraced lobbyist so harshly and he was, therefore, pleased to offer his assistance.
I introduced myself to Jack, wondering exactly how pleased he’d be to meet me, despite his recent 60 Minutes interview in which he renounced his former life and claimed the mantle of a reformer. Strangely enough, he was happy to make my acquaintance. He even told me he had considered reaching out to me during the height of the scandal to offer some helpful advice, but had decided against it on the advice of counsel. I asked him if he’d assist CREW now by offering insights into the way the lobbying world works and he promised to do so. He said despite the changes to ethics rules, little had changed since his heyday. One of the biggest problems is that so many people – both lawmakers and congressional staff – now view the Hill as just a way station on their way to a highly paid lobbying job, making them all the more eager to maintain strong relationships with those who lobby them.
We agreed that the efforts by both Congress and the White House to blame lobbyists for all the ills of the Capitol culture is misguided – after all lobbyists are not the final decision makers, they don’t have a vote. Nevertheless, official Washington rarely accepts responsibility for its own conduct – so much easier to blame everyone else.
Jack is busy with his book tour for the next several weeks, but promised to get back in touch after that to get down to the business of government reform. He signed a copy for me: “For Melanie – who would imagine that we’re now on the same side! Look forward to working together for the future. Warmest regards, Jack Abramoff.”
Jack’s claim to be a changed man certainly seemed sincere, but after all, he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. It’s not as if his old colleagues would welcome him back into the fold. It remains to be seen whether the zealotry of the newly converted lasts past the last television interview.