Lesley Stahl of CBS News
gets ‘Jacked’ on ’60 Minutes’
Abramoff turns anchor’s stomach
with extent of corruption in Washington
Jack Abramoff, onetime power broker for the elite of Washington, D.C., is holding no punches in exposing corruption on Capitol Hill and warning it may run deeper and wider than most Americans can even imagine.
“People are under the impression that the corruption only involves somebody handing over a check and getting that favor, and that’s not the case,” Abramoff told CBS’s Lesley Stahl. “The bribery, call it, because ultimately that’s what it is, that’s what the whole [lobbying] system is … it is done every day, and it is still being done.
“The truth is there are very few members [of Congress] who I could even name or could think of who didn’t at some level participate in that,” he said.
Abramoff appeared on Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview to discuss his new book, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist,” which, upon its official release in just hours from now, is already causing a firestorm among Washington’s powerful lobbying community.
At one time, Abramoff told Stahl, his lobbying firm had an estimated 100 members of Congress in its back pocket.
Abramoff influenced legislators by lavishing them with access to private jets and junkets to the world’s greatest golf destinations, free meals and access to the best tickets to area sporting events. But the best way to peddle influence, Abramoff said, was to tell congressmen’s staffers high-salaried jobs would be waiting after their stint on Capitol Hill.
The moment the job was offered, Abramoff explained, “That was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request from our clients, everything that we want, they’re going to do.”
“It was effective,” Abramoff said. “Most congressmen don’t feel they’re being ‘bought.’ Most congressmen I think, can in their own mind justify the system.”
Stahl was stunned and personally sickened by the revelations, summarizing, “I really think what you were doing was subverting the essence of our system.”
“Absolutely right,” Abramoff affirmed. “But our system is flawed and has to be fixed. Human beings populate our sytem. Human beings are weak.”
“And you preyed on that,” Stahl asserted.
Abramoff went on to explain how lobbyists can game the legislative process to secure payoffs for clients, often without their targets’ express knowledge. By convincing members of Congress to insert into bills backdoor language that is intentionally obscure and draped in legal code, lobbyists can open up sweetheart holes in regulations for their clients.
“We crafted language that was so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise, to change the U.S. code,” Abramoff said.
It worked so well, he explained, because, “Members don’t read the bills.”
Former Rep. Bob Ney confirmed Abramoff’s story:
“I had no idea [what the obscure, coded phrases changed in the law]; I didn’t care,” Ney said. “It was a great big shell game. … I was dumb enough to not say, ‘What’s this thing do?'”
In the span of 10 years, Jack Abramoff became the most powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Congressmen lined up to do his bidding, executives heeded his advice and heads of governments hung on his every word. But scandal brought him down, ultimately casting him into prison.
Now a free man, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth about Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist,” is Jack Abramoff’s autobiographical exposé unveiling the mysterious and corrupt world of federal politics.
In his book, Abramoff “outs” senators and members of Congress and sets out the details of insider deals previously unknown to most.
But he also sets forth a Capitol Hill reform plan that would rock the fraternal inside-the-Beltway culture.
Lobbying firms have been huddling to coordinate an attack on Abramoff, while press secretaries of members of Congress named in the book are churning out counter attacks as quickly as they can.
However, official Washington does not have the option of ignoring Hurricane Jack, since his appearance on “60 Minutes,” followed by scheduled interviews on the Today Show and Sean Hannity (radio and TV) tomorrow, CNN’s Piers Morgan on Tuesday, Fox & Friends Wednesday, Lawrence O’Donnell on Thursday and many more.
Among other revelations that already have surfaced, and the reactions 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 of today’s interview said Abramoff’s reaction to new ethics reform laws approved by Congress was one of disdain.
The interview shows him saying lobbyists are arrogant and will always have the attitude that “We’re smarter than they are and we’ll overcome it.”
• 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 Ohio. 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.”