Jack Abramoff: John McCain’s other Lobbyist problem...

by dengre at Daily Kos

Fri Feb 22, 2008 at 09:52:13 PM PST

John McCain has a Lobbyist Scandal on his hands and despite Right-wing auto-rants, this is not a "made-up" story.

The "sex" hook may be a MacGuffin, but this Lobbyist Scandal has legs.

As Thomas C pointed out Newsweek has poked another hole in McCain’s version of reality. The Washington Post has added details about McCain’s dependence on Lobbyists for his survival and the Polk winning Muck Rakers at TPM are connecting the McCain Lobbying Scandal dots as fast as they can rake ‘em up.

McCain is "shocked" and fighting back. Key to his defense is his investigation of Jack Abramoff. This, he argues, is proof of his "reputation" as a "reformer" and his "integrity".

Yeah, right.

Don’t buy that hype.

Jack Abramoff is at the heart of McCain’s campaign—and not in a good way.

To the jump...

John McCain is an ambitious man. It drives him.

Ambition is not always a bad thing and it is a requirement for those who run for President. Sometimes though, ambition trumps everything including honor. McCain has that kind of ambition. The kind that is blind.

Perhaps that wasn’t always the case.

Eight years ago in 2000, McCain’s was on track to upset the status quo. He took on George W. Bush and the Republican machine. In the early primaries he showed that he had enough support and juice to win—if he wasn’t stopped.

He was stopped.

Jack Abramoff was key to that effort, as were his long-time pals and partners in crime Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist. They funded dirty tricks and went after McCain with a viciousness they usually reserved for Democrats. A recent article in Salon described part of their anti-McCain campaign:

During the 2000 campaign, Norquist was a vocal opponent of McCain's candidacy, holding press conferences in New Hampshire and South Carolina to denounce McCain's support for campaign finance reform. Norquist's nonprofit, Americans for Tax Reform, ran issue advertisements that echoed the talking points of then-candidate George W. Bush. The ad called McCain "the only candidate approved by the liberal New York Times" and suggested that Bill Clinton and "Big Labor" supported McCain's positions.

I could write a very long Diary about the many things these three Caballeros of the Right did to elect Bush and defeat McCain. Their actions and money were critical to Bush’s victory and John McCain knew it.

Time passed.

The Supreme Court installed Bush and the three Caballeros had access and power. January 2001 through January 2004 became the golden days for Reed, Norquist and Abramoff.

They were at the height of their power.

It seemed nothing could ever slow them down, but then the Washington Post ran a story about Jack ripping off his Native American clients—by more than $30 million dollars.

That got some attention in Washington.

One person who noticed was John McCain. He was the second ranking Republican on the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee and would soon become the Chairman when Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell retired.

He quickly lined up an investigation.

It was payback time.

McCain went after Abramoff with a vengeance. Before Jack and his team could organize a defense McCain subpoenaed ALL of Jack’s records. Now Jack could stall on papers, but not electronic files. Those really belonged to his employers: Preston Gates from 1995 to 2000 and Greenberg Traurig from 2000 to 2004. These firms were tied to the scandal and McCain held their fate in his hands.

A major concern for any corporations tied to a growing scandal in early 2004 was the fate of Arthur Andersen. The Enron scandal had proved that a company tied to a corruption scandal could get a "death sentence" if they did not cooperate with investigators.

Jack’s lobbying firms got the hint from McCain and turned over everything they had related to Jack Abramoff, his team and his clients. It turns out that they had a lot of records.

Jack liked new technology. He liked to update his toys and he wanted access to all of his files with every upgrade. Turns out the IT departments of his firms had learned to keep back-ups of all his emails, memos, reports and electronic files so they could always meet Jack’s needs.


These documents and many, many more were turned over to McCain. When the dust settled McCain had 750,000 pages of documents.

He had everything. He had Jack’s Little Black Book as it were.

He had the goods on Jack and everybody who ever worked with Jack.

It was easy to leak details to the press to drive the story in whatever direction McCain wanted the narrative to take.

It was easy for McCain to let the folks who took him down in 2000 know that payback time was on the horizon.

There would be blood and there would be fall guys.

Jack was first.

Then a bunch of staffers. Then Bob Ney.

Tom DeLay lost his power base as well.

McCain made it clear that he had the goods on Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist as well.
By 2005, journalists like Peter Stone were laying out the details:

"At Greenberg Traurig, [there] was an understanding that Jack was helping Grover with money and that Grover was there to help some clients," said one former lobbyist from the firm. "It was a symbiotic relationship."

Until early 2004, Norquist and ATR played a pivotal role in boosting Abramoff's lobbying career. Norquist championed the interests of Abramoff's two biggest clients to the influential network of conservatives, policy wonks, and politicians who attend ATR's regular Wednesday meetings. He also deployed his group's grassroots resources to help fend off the threat of taxes and regulation on Indian tribes' gambling ventures and on other Abramoff clients.

And Stone made it clear that Norquist, Reed and Abramoff knew McCain was on a mission of payback and that they were the targets:

In an interview with National Journal last year, after the Abramoff scandal broke, Norquist charged that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, who has been leading the Senate inquiry into Abramoff's alleged lobbying abuses, "hates Bush and hates DeLay, and Jack is an ally and friend of both."

A funny thing happened to McCain’s payback investigation—reality intruded.

As the details of the scandal emerged it quickly became clear that this was bigger web of corruption than anybody thought (well except me, I had been following Jack for year by 2004—and I knew it was and is a massive scandal). It quickly became apparent that the Abramoff scandal—if fully investigated—would defeat George W. Bush in 2004 and throw Republicans out of power in the House and Senate. By mid 2004, McCain was slow-walking his "investigation". After Bush was re-elected it picked up a little steam in 2005 but went dark again as the 2006 election approached.

Finally, with little fanfare, McCain’s committee released a report of their investigation in July 2006. The investigation had been slow-walked into a cover-up. Still, McCain took parting shots at Reed, Norquist and Abramoff.

Grover was not pleased and he said so:

"He has exhibited personal animus toward me," Norquist said. "McCain, who’s running for president and is ostensibly the front-runner, takes time and effort to throw a punch at me and Ralph Reed. Why? He has told people we stopped him in the presidential election last time, and he thinks we might do it again. He is delusional. George W. Bush Beat him in South Carolina. But that’s high praise of the taxpayer movement that he has told so many people this."

McCain staffers said the 373-page report, the culmination of a two-year investigation, is a neutral, factual account of Abramoff’s movements. E-mails from Abramoff cited in the report indicate that the disgraced lobbyist used ATR — for a fee — as a conduit for moving money from the Mississippi Choctaw American Indian tribe to anti-gambling grassroots activists who would have been uncomfortable receiving money from gambling profits. [snip]

McCain and Norquist have had a contentious relationship since 2000, when Norquist banded with conservative groups like National Right to Life, the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Work Committee to criticize McCain on campaign-finance reform. McCain’s campaign faltered after he lost to George W. Bush in South Carolina’s primary.

And even as he was attacking Grover, McCain had an eye on running for President in 2008 and was signaling that Norquist really had nothing to worry about—Grover would not be a fall guy like Jack:

Norquist said that within the past year, four high-level lobbyists sent by McCain’s operations have contacted him, seeking to mend fences, including one lobbyist who sent him a $10,000 check. McCain’s staff vigorously denies that and points to Norquist’s refusal to name the lobbyists. [snip]

"McCain needs the taxpayer movement to get elected in a Republican primary and in a presidential election," said Norquist, who holds strategy meetings each Wednesday with conservative lawmakers, grassroots activists and representatives from the White House. "If he fought for abolishing the capital-gains tax or dramatically cutting the income tax, I would be out there, applauding, saying, ‘That’s great.’"

And it turns out that McCain has been able to mend his fences with Grover and McCain now has his support:

Grover Norquist, president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, for example, criticized McCain in an interview with Cybercast News Service in January. "If the rest of Congress had voted the way Senator McCain did over the years, your taxes would be a trillion dollars higher than they are today," he said.

But on Saturday, in another interview with Cybercast News Service, Norquist seemed ready to put the past away and support the frontrunner, apparently in light of McCain's recent statements that he is now a hard-line anti-taxer. "McCain has staked a good tax position," said Norquist. "He has said twice he will veto a tax increase. I will support the Republican nominee."

In fact, the extremely corrupt Grover Norquist is now one of McCain’s advisors on tax policy:

One of those McCain is listening to is Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader who demands that candidates sign his "pledge" not to OK a tax increase. McCain refused to put his name on it. Yet in recent months, his advisers devised a tax plan with input from Norquist and others. First, McCain said he'd fight to make the Bush tax cuts permanent—even though he originally opposed them. Then, before New Hampshire, he unveiled a plan to cut corporate and investment taxes and to abolish the alternative minimum tax. "I'd still like to get it in writing," Norquist tells me, "but I'm pleased with McCain's tax-cut position now."

This is a startling development. Just a few years ago, McCain and his advisors were attacking Norquist at every turn. They even inspired the Senate Finance Committee to investigate him and release yet another damning report on the way Norquist breaks the law on a regular basis:

A long-awaited report by the Senate Finance Committee accuses Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and other Abramoff-linked non-profits with committing acts that are likely in violation of their tax-exempt status. [snip]

Carol Guthrie, spokeswoman for ranking member Max Baucus (D-MT), said that copies of the report, which details possible violations of law and tax code, were delivered to the Justice Department and the IRS, along with "brief explanatory" letters from Baucus. She would not release a copy of the letter.

"The Justice Department and the IRS will have to determine whether tax laws were broken," Baucus said in a statement sent to reporters. "But in my view, these groups’ dealings with Jack Abramoff certainly violated the spirit, and perhaps the letter," of the law.

Of course it was the Bush DOJ investigating Norquist, so Grover is in the free and clear. His only worry might be the evidence in the 750,000 Abramoff documents collected by the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee.

Grover (and most Republicans in Washington) would be in trouble if those files were ever released, but they can sleep well because John McCain has made sure they won’t ever be released.

It is a Senate thing so it is hard to understand.

McCain has an agreement with the Democrats that the Abramoff documents held by the Indian Affairs Committee can not be released unless both sides of the aisle agree to release them. In other words, McCain has a hold on releasing any of these documents.

This gives him great power within a weakened and corrupt Republican Party.

Perhaps it is why only "C" list Republican back benchers and gadflies challenged him in the Republican primary. All the "players" knew that McCain could release a new wave a scandal by leaking selective Abramoff documents. His control of the Abramoff documents has been his greatest tool in lining the Party up behind him.

Obstruction of justice and intentionally covering up the Abramoff scandal is John McCain’s Abramoff problem.

John McCain needs to be held accountable for his actions.

So far, he has buried this meme and used his cover-up to create the illusion of a reformer on the teevee.

The NYTs story makes it possible that the truth might come out. It makes it possible that McCain’s Abramoff Cover-up will become an issue in the 2008 campaign.

I hope it does.

All that is required is curiosity and a willingness to question authority and the status quo.

For example, one could ask, "why is Grover Norquist endorsing McCain?" and/or "why is McCain signing on to Grovers ‘no-tax’ scam?"

Or one might look at McCain’s relationship with Jack’s old lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig.

GT was a movement Republican lobbying shop. They were foot soldiers in the effort to establish one-party rule in the USA.

Before the Abramoff Scandal broke, McCain had received only $1,000 from one member of the firm.

After the scandal, the firm owed their continued existence to cooperation with McCain. It was how they survived the fallout from the scandal:

Greenberg Traurig was a politically well-connected law firm long before Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, joined it about six years ago.

Lawyers for the firm represented George W. Bush in the weeks after the disputed 2000 election. Its partnership ranks include high-powered lawyers like John Scalia, the son of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The firm has weathered scandal in the past. [snip]

But no crisis has been as potentially toxic as the one involving Mr. Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to defrauding clients of tens of millions of dollars and enticing government officials with bribes. [snip]

Greenberg Traurig rushed to distance itself from Mr. Abramoff, appease his clients and work closely with prosecutors. In the process it has earned praise for its cooperation from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona... [snip] ... when the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on the widening scandal in November, Fred Baggett, a partner in the Tallahassee office of Greenberg Traurig, went.

"Based on Mr. Schuelke's investigation, the firm has made disclosures to clients affected by Mr. Abramoff's activities, worked out resolutions with a number of affected clients and hopes to work out resolutions with still other affected clients," Mr. Baggett's prepared statement reads.

The statement was clearly appreciated by Senator McCain, the committee chairman. "I know this chapter in the firm's history is embarrassing and painful in many ways," Mr. McCain said in his prepared remarks. "But I want the record to reflect that, consistent with their professional obligations, Greenberg Traurig and its counsel have always been responsive to the committee's requests, always made themselves available to answer questions, and have always conducted themselves with dignity and professionalism in these trying circumstances."

And Greenberg Traurig rewarded McCain with cash.

Sam Stein over at the Huffington Post went digging through McCain’s donations and found McCain received over $100,000 from Jack’s old firm

"Ask Jack Abramoff if I'm an insider in Washington," McCain often contends. "You'd probably have to go during visiting hours in the prison, and he'll tell you and his lobbyist cronies of the change I made there."

But how much change did McCain actually effect? And is he all that removed from Washington's special interests?

A review of campaign finance filings shows that the Arizona Republican has accepted more than $100,000 in donations from employees of Greenberg Traurig, the very firm where Abramoff once reigned.

And these donations started when McCain started his investigation cover-up of the Abramoff Scandal.

A curious person might want to explore the connection.

A curious person might asked What else is in the 750,000 pages of Abramoff documents?

A suspicious person might demand these documents be released to the press and the public.

McCain actively controlled the story and he put the investigation into slow motion. He ensured that the Abramoff Scandal was a not a factor in the 2004 election. Then he worked to ensured that voters would not know about how closely Abramoff, Rove and Bush worked together. Then McCain worked to actively limited the damage the Abramoff scandal had on the GOP in the 2006 election. And then he used his access to Jack’s little black book to discourage serious competition and build support for his 2008 run for the White House.

And in the process truth, honor and justice have become the victims of McCain’s ambition. An ambition that has led him to hide the most damning details of the Abramoff scandal:

Jack’s role as a 25-year bagman for the GOP: hidden.

Jack’s close working relationship with the Bush White House: hidden.

Jack’s close working relationship with the Republican Congressional Leadership: hidden.

Jack’s role in dirty tricks and off-the-books money for the GOP: hidden.

Jack’s role in Medicare reform: hidden.

Jack’s role energy policy: hidden.

John McCain needs to be called on this.

We need to demand the release of the Abramoff papers.

Think of a carton of paper.

Each box hold 5,000 sheets.

Now, visualize 150 boxes filled with Abramoff’s emails, memos, billing records, schedules, appointments and many, many more related documents. McCain had everything.

Now, take away a box and a half of documents.

Set them in a pile.

This is what the McCain investigation, I meant cover-up released. And most every Abramoff scandal news story and indictment to date has grown from these initial releases of documents.

Mountains of scandals and thousands of real crimes have been hidden and protected by Senator John McCain.

How many documents has John McCain hidden?

Well, if you stacked them into a single stack, it would be about the fifth of the height of the Washington Monument, around 123.5 feet tall!

Here is what the McCain//Abramoff Cover-up looks like:

This scandal should be hung around McCain’s neck. There is no way we should let him get away with bragging about doing the dirty work to minimize the impact of the scandal on George W. Bush’s 2004 race and to keep most of his caucus out of a well deserved jail cell.

John McCain is intensely corrupt.

He is especially unfit to be President of the United States of America.

I just thought I would pass that along.