It is far too early to tell what kind of impact it will ultimately have on the Republican establishment, but the Jack Abramoff scandal could well be the most perilous of all the storms developing in Washington. And the cloud forming on the horizon is a dark one indeed.
The most fascinating aspect of this whole controversy is the number of people it potentially involves. From elected officials in Congress to top conservative activists, the Abramoff lobbyist sham could ravage the neocons far worse than the CIA-leak affair. It could also take a top Democrat or two down as well.
The Abramoff saga is more than one sordid tale of an insider gone wild; it’s a vivid narrative of how business is done in Washington. From legal maneuvering to backroom bribes and pay-offs, Abramoff is just one in a long line of power hungry lobbyists.
At the heart of the Abramoff inquiry is the work he did for six Indian tribes during the 1990s up until 2004. At question is whether or not Abramoff along with his partner Michael Scanlon bilked at least $80 million from his clients, evaded taxes and violated lobbyist disclosure laws.
There are a handful of politicians currently under scrutiny. Rep. Tom DeLay is the most notable, but now in the hot seat is Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, Rep. John Doolittle of California and Rep. Robert Ney of Ohio, all Republicans, are reported to be the most central to the ongoing investigation. But on the periphery, and I’m told a potential addition to the aforementioned list in the near future, could be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Last week the Associated Press reported that almost three dozen congress people moved to halt the construction of a Louisiana Indian casino while they simultaneously collected large donations from Jack Abramoff and his tribal clients. Senator Harry Reid was one of those elected officials.
Reid sent a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on March 5, 2002, which was also signed by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. "The next day, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid’s tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid’s group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004," the AP reported.
It was a political tit-for-tat. Reid opposed the construction of the casino and was paid handsomely for his choice. Another Democrat caught up in the legal chaos is former Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, who, according to tribal records, wrote Norton on March 1, 2002 about the same matter. Coushattas wrote a $1,000 check to his Senate campaign five days later and handed over $10,000 to his library fund.
We’ve all heard how Tom DeLay was allegedly flown all over the country on Abramoff’s clients’ tab. But what we don’t hear much about is that two Democratic congressmen, James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and now the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, along with Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, now the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, were flown to the Northern Mariana Islands in the mid-1990s, paid in part by Jack Abramoff. And the list of Democratic culpability in the Abramoff affair goes on.
Chances are high that the black cloud engulfing Washington will eventually rain down on both the Republicans and the Democrats.
Joshua Frank [send him mail] is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, just published by Common Courage Press. To learn more visit www.BrickBurner.org.