Abramoff Reveals the Nature of the Game

Jack Abramoff is out of prison and is spilling the beans on how things really work in Washington. In particular, he’s telling everyone how easy it is to essentially buy off legislators and their staffs (which may be just as important) to get them to do whatever is necessary for their clients. Ezra Klein has some excerpts from Abramoff’s interview on 60 minutes:

In the interview, Abramoff gives away some of the tricks of his former trade. The big one? Dangle a job, he told Lesley Stahl. “When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”

This is the revolving door of politics. Staffers and legislators leave and go to work as lobbyists. Legislators get cushy positions on the boards of corporations as a reward for all the favors they did while in office.

He also talked about how they would hide provisions that had a big payoff for corporate clients behind legalese:

Once the key staffers or legislators were bought, the trick was getting clients what they wanted without attracting attention. “So what we did was we crafted language that was so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise.” The following line of text, for instance, quietly won Abramoff’s Native American clients a casino license: “Public law 100-89 is amended by striking section 207 (101 stat. 668, 672).”

“Now isn’t that obvious what that means?” chortles Abramoff. “It was perfect. It was perfect.”

He also says, quite correctly, that the “reforms” put in place in response to his downfall have done little to clean up the system, that he could do the same thing today that he did 10 years ago. And he’s right. The same thing is going on right now. And it will continue to go on because the people with the power to change it are the ones that benefit from not changing it.

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  • Michael Heath

    I think what must also be considered when Jack Abramoff and his ilk offer this enticement is the context within which it’s offered. It’s not merely the promised income, but the overt consumption of money in the form of entertainment that is attendant to the job of lobbyist and the influence it buys with powerful people.

    Someone isn’t merely offering you a job that would near-guarantee you and your family’s financial security in an area with a very high cost of living, they’re also offering you a lifestyle very desirable to many people in terms of controlling access to sporting and other entertainment events, great restaurants, booze, and boondoggle adventures like golf in Scotland, or diving in the Caribbean. And it’s not merely your access to these spiffs, but your ability to provide this access to others that make this alluring.

  • Dennis N

    So if you’re actually contrite, how about revealing the crimes of Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist? No? Oh, you’re just trying to sell a book after sensing the winds have changed, and any truth you speak is for personal gain? Got it.

  • AsqJames

    cf. Nancy Pelosi (on the Daily Show the other night) explaining why a 3 page proposal for a rule limiting the banks’ ability to buy debt with depositors money needed to be re-written into a 300 page bill. Coincidence?

    Side note: Jon Stewart and the Daily Show team are brilliant at skewering cant and double-speak in the first half of the show, but the interview often seems to be much weaker. Or maybe that’s just me?

  • “Jack Abramoff is out of prison…”

    This is a major part of the problem. One of the most notorious influence peddlers and corrupt lobbyists of our times got a measly 4 year prison sentence. The people he took down with him were mostly mid-level staffers who got prison sentences ranging from months to a few years. With the exception of Bob Ney, no one in a real position of power got touched.

    No wonder this shit is so rampant. Even if you get caught red handed doing the most blatantly illegal things possible, you get a slap on the wrist, and if you’re at the top, you won’t even get that.

  • noastronomer

    “Legislators get cushy positions on the boards of corporations…”

    Where they promptly fail to do even the small amount of work that is expected of them.

  • Pinky

    My (non-psych professional) reactions to Abramoff’s interview:

    What a narcissist; “I was wrong”, “I gave most of my earnings to charity”, “It’s terrible what I did.” I heard the subtext to be: “I am the once tarnished, but now bright and shiny white knight who can lead us back to purity.”


    One of the reasons I stopped watching 60 Minutes was their willingness to provide a vehicle for celebrities who had done wrong and want to be rehabilitated in the public’s eye. 60 Minutes does not seem to be overly concerned if the mea culpa comes with a sincere atonement. Lesley Stahl’s flaccid: “I hate you,” did not remove the shit-eating grin from Jack Abramoff’s face.

    I would bet many of the players in the nasty business of influence buying are still in Washington DC. I know my congressman, Doc Hastings, was involved with Abramoff, but miraculously ducked when the shit hit the fan. Hastings remains in his seat protecting corporations against the lumpen proletariat citizens. The citizens who keep returning Hastings to congress because: “He ain’t no lib-err-rhall, he’s god fearen like us.

    I live in a conservative enclave in a liberal state.

    My thoughts on the machinations of government have not changed; it’s still a cluster fornication where corporations laugh wickedly as they shuck their trousers. It will take a painful cutting and ripping inside the body politic to removed the metastasized malignancy.