Another great piece of reporting on the Abramoff scandal from the Washington Post and the focus is on the failure to include the DeLay quote about his friendship with Abramoff.
It did not make the article, but it was in the print timeline sidebar and the online scandal reference.
The quote is also featured in the Tom DeLay profile of the WP 12-23-05 resource of the Key Players in the Investigation of Lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
I don't think the WP, or the reporters are downplaying this quote. They did let Jack and Tom's advocates give their post-scandal spin. Then they let their past reporting and online Abramoff scandal resources give readers a reason to questions the spin.
Meanwhile, we are missing the important parts of the article and the WP reporting.
It was Susan Schmidt's Feb. 22, 2004 article A Jackpot From Indian Gaming Tribes on Jack's Tribal casino scam that led McCain to start his investigation. And the many other investigations that followed. In fact you can read it in the 11-2-05 document dump posted on the Committee on Indian Affairs website. It starts on page 291 of the PDF. Along with the article you can read the email reactions of some members of "Team Abramoff"
The mistake is to approach today's article as the sum of the WP's reporting. It is not. In fact, today's piece was a light survey of the story so far. Many elements were compressed to get it into only two full newsprint pages plus the top of the fold front page leadoff.
It is the full body of work by Schmidt and Grimaldi and their associates that should command our respect. It is great work. From the Tribal casino scam to SunCruz to the E-Lottery scam to Congressional travels with Jack these two reporters and others at the WP have been breaking Abramoff scandal news. And lately they've been doing it on an almost weekly basis.
In my book Schmidt has redeemed her Clinton era reporting with her Abramoff work. And Grimaldi is a solid reporter who has uncovered mountains of new details in the Abramoff scandal.
And even today's overview had some real gems. For instance:
So there's just a few more days for Jack to make his deal. And what might that mean? Well, the Abramoff Galaxy sidebar provides a quick visual representation of the scandal. Which seems to be a galaxy of only Republicans. And the big news is that another GOP Congressman, John Doolittle, joins Ney, Burns and DeLay on the official "Under scrutiny" list.
So far we know that Scanlon and Kidan have made deals with the Feds. The Galaxy sidebar helps to explain why this is a big problem for the GOP. The article also makes it clear that members of Team Abramoff are also talking (the WP Online has a list of Team Abramoff members):
Abramoff's lobbying team was made up of Republicans and a few Democrats, most of whom he had wined and dined when they were aides to powerful members of Congress. They signed on for the camaraderie, the paycheck, the excitement.
"Everybody lost their minds," recalled a former congressional staffer who lobbied with Abramoff at Preston Gates. "Jack was cutting deals all over town. Staffers lost their loyalty to members -- they were loyal to money." [snip]
"We weren't outside the box," the former Preston Gates colleague said. "We were outside the universe." [snip]
A Louisiana paper, the Town Talk of Alexandria, reported in September 2003 that the Coushatta tribe paid Scanlon's public relations firm $13.7 million, a figure that amazed tribal lobbyists as well as some of Abramoff's colleagues. It was around that time that one colleague, Kevin Ring, learned from one of Abramoff's assistants that his boss was secretly getting money from Scanlon, according to a source privy to the conversation.
"This could be the Enron of lobbying," Ring told the colleague.
With Ring talking, it's not a wonder that Doolittle's made the list.
And Scanlon's importance was more than underscored by this graph:
Jack's deals with these "oil-patch" countries are another boat-load of scandal shoes waiting to drop. While there has been some reporting on Jack and Malaysia, the link to oil-producing human rights pariahs is new and may lead to some new pay-for-play Congressional actions like Ney's work for SunCruz (which these two reporters uncovered). The fact that this graph is included leads me to expect the WP will examine this scandal connection in depth in the coming months.
And the article adds some depth to Jack's affinity for scoundrels:
One of Abramoff's most audacious adventures involved Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader who had U.S. support but was later found to have ordered the murders of his movement's representative to the United States and that man's relatives. With Savimbi, Abramoff organized a "convention" of anticommunist guerrillas from Laos, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in a remote part of Angola. Afterward, Lehrman fired Abramoff amid a dispute about the handling of the group's $3 million budget.
Abramoff also worked on behalf of the apartheid South African government, which secretly paid $1.5 million a year to the International Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group that Abramoff operated out of a townhouse in the 1980s, according to sworn testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
At the same time, Abramoff dabbled as a Hollywood producer, shepherding an anticommunist movie, "Red Scorpion," starring Dolph Lundgren, filmed in Namibia, which was then ruled by South Africa. Actors in the film said they saw South African soldiers on the set. When the film was released in 1989, anti-apartheid groups demonstrated at the theaters.
So at least the overview pointed out Jack's ties to Iran Contra, Apartheid and Afghan fighters. That might help to explain this bit:
"Suddenly, this portly guy steps in and sits down. He says nothing," recalled one of the lobbyists. The Americans asked him to introduce himself. He folded his arms and refused.
"Finally, he says, 'I am Jack Abramoff,' " recalled the lobbyist, a well-connected Democrat. They had never heard of him. Abramoff explained that he was "close to Newt."
The astonished lobbyists for Bhutto learned that Abramoff had traveled to Islamabad and had sold his services to the Pakistani military without the prime minister's knowledge.
Perhaps Jack's connection to Pakistan's military will yield some new scandal details. Perhaps Scanlon's company did some work for them. Or perhaps some member of Congress had his Ney-moment for Jack over an issue important to Pakistan's military pre-9-11.
Then there are the deep ties to Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed that seem to be the dark matter that hold this scandal together. If Jack makes a deal those two guys are next.
And there are new details about Jack's father and his connection to gambling and Saipan.
And some interesting Susan Ralston details, that move her hiring by Rove away from Jack and towards Reed. Now that's a triangle of sleeze.
And there are details about how the post got started on Jack's trail (another lobbyist ratted him out) and that Greenberg Trauring, Jack's employer may have known about Jack's deal with Scanlon and sat on their hands for two months, only acting after the Feb. 2004 WP article came out.
Finally there is the question about Abramoff's relationship with DeLay. They present comments from associates of both men that they were never personally close. That may be true, as I can't imagine that anybody is really close to DeLay. Tom and Jack are both got to where they are by manipulating the appearance of friendship.
And while they might not have been best-buddies they did have an active political relationship that centered around power, money and partisan politics. The post let their friends spin and then let the body of their reporting and the sidbars accompanying the piece raise doubts about that spin. Raising doubts about the spin in the piece might have been better, but at least the doubts are there.
The more interesting issue is when did Tom Meet Jack? The article states:
I'm curious about when the "aide" recalls the meeting taking place. We can assume it was way before the July 29, 1995 National Journal profile of Abramoff that included this graph:
But in a Washington turned upside down by the 1994 elections, Abramoff has emerged as one of the biggest winners. [snip]
Like the most successful lobbyists, Abramoff can rely on web of connections to help his clients. He is more than welcome among the new Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. ''He is someone on our side,'' said Ed Buckham, the chief of staff to House Majority Whip Tom D. DeLay, R-Texas. ''He has access to DeLay.''
Many others have reported a different way that Tom and Jack met.
One is Tom DeLay scholar Lou Dubose (who co-wrote DeLay's biography, The Hammer). He wrote that it was Rabbi Daniel Lapin who made the introductions:
Another was Slate in April 2005:
And another was the Seattle Weekly:
The Washington Post's failure to explore the Lapin/DeLay/Abramoff introduction story is a deficit in their reporting to date. That Tom and Jack met in 1994 or before is far more believable than sometime in 1995. And at this point one should be suspicious of what their advocates say. After all they may have reasons to spin this story.
Buckham and former senior DeLay aide Tony Rudy have a vested interest in Jack being a greedy lobbyist as they are waste deep in the scandal. As is a certain Congressman from California who has been working with Jack almost as long as Norquist and Reed:
There was a lot of great reporting in the WP piece and it outweighs the gaps that are there. Especially in light of the scope of Schmidt and Grimaldi's reporting on Abramoff. Please read their earlier Abramoff stories before slamming today's piece. The Washington Post has been out in front reporting on this scandal. And there have been many other out in front as well, including:
- Stephen Pizzo of AlterNet.
- Franklin Foer of The New Republic.
- Walter F. Roche Jr. and Chuck Neubauer of the LA Times
- Sharon Theimer of AP, and
- Lou Dubose, author of DeLay's biography, The Hammer and a writer for Salon and Texas Monthly
- Jonathan D. Salant and Michael Forsythe of Bloomberg.
And of course there are the progressive blogs who can keep the pressure on the MSM and are find new ways to drive this story.
One way is to research Jack's fundraising for DeLay in 1993-1994. When they met is important--much more important than the inclusion of DeLay's "best friend" line in every over-view story. Hard proof that they met before 1995 would be an important addition to the scandal timeline.
The Abramoff scandal will impact 2006. Perhaps today is the day Jack cuts his deal. If so, I will read the reporting of the WP to discover the new details as they emerge. The paper is doing a great job of covering this and they deserve some love.