Even in Washington, the rise and fall of Jack Abramoff is breathtaking. At his peak he commanded $750-an-hour lobbying fees and maintained impeccable ties to the leaders of the conservative movement, where he was known as the “godfather” of Tom DeLay’s lobbying network. DeLay himself once called Abramoff “one of my closest and dearest friends.”
Now Abramoff is perhaps the most radioactive figure in the nation’s capital, thanks to the revelations last year that he and partner Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay aide, defrauded a half-dozen Indian tribes of $82 million in lobbying fees between 2001 and 2004. He is the subject of a wide-ranging interagency criminal probe in Washington and has been indicted in Florida on wire fraud and conspiracy charges in the purchase of SunCruz Casinos, whose previous owner was shot dead months after Abramoff acquired the company.
The Indian probe, focused on the exorbitant fees tribes were charged by Abramoff and Scanlon to lobby on Indian gaming issues, has implicated DeLay, House Administration Committee chairman Bob Ney, antitax activist Grover Norquist and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, among others. The government’s top procurement official, David Safavian, was arrested in September for obstructing the Justice Department’s investigation into Abramoff. Bush’s nominee for Deputy Attorney General, Tyco executive Timothy Flanigan, withdrew his nomination after disclosing that Abramoff had lobbied on Tyco’s behalf.
The Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs, chaired by John McCain, has prompted a flurry of headlines about Abramoff since its investigation began in September 2004. It has opened a window into Abramoff and Scanlon’s lurid world of bogus Christian front groups, self-enriching charitable organizations, expletive-filled e-mails and lavish Congressional junkets, all seemingly driven by Gordon Gekko’s famous mantra from the movie Wall Street: “Greed is good.” The investigation has provided a dizzying insight into how Washington works–or doesn’t. Abramoff, as the chairman of the Coushatta tribe of Lousiana testified Wednesday, “is the golden-boy-gone-bad of the American political system.” (For the full backstory, see Michael Crowley’s “A Lobbyist in Full.”)
Wednesday marked the last of four scheduled committee hearings, and the first time a high-ranking Bush Administration official, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steven Griles, has been caught in the committee’s crosshairs–a precursor, perhaps, of things to come. A GOP source involved in the federal investigation called his testimony “a big deal, a really big deal.”