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We were lucky.

A few weeks ago on a Friday, Todd Boulanger pleaded guilty for his role in the ongoing Abramoff corruption scandal. He was a key member of Team Abramoff and before that he worked for former NH Senator Bob Smith (one of Jack’s go-to Senators).  Boulanger’s plea identified a Legislative Director for a US Senator as "Staffer F" and laid out the many favors Team Abramoff did for this staffer and some of the deeds done in return.

Over that weekend, a network of scandal researchers had concluded that "Staffer F" was Kevin Koonce and that the Senator was Judd Gregg. The rumor was that Gregg would soon be nominated to be President Obama’s Commerce Secretary. It was too late for Gregg’s link to scandal to filter up and stop it. The day after Gregg was nominated; the Koonce story broke in the AP, Washington Post, NYTs and elsewhere.

Today, Gregg backed out and we dodged a bullet.

OTOH, Gregg and the GOP still have some problems.

Let’s jump...

Judd Gregg has a Jack Abramoff problem.

At the very least, Abramoff and his team had easy access to Gregg’s Senate staff and were able to use that access to help their clients by stopping unfavorable legislation while getting earmarks and favorable legislation passed into law.

As it stands right now, Gregg’s best defense is that he is a terrible manager and that "bad apples" joined his staff, went "rogue" and traded favors in his name. And to be fair, Gregg may be that dense. After all, look at the sloppy and moronic way he withdrew himself from consideration as Obama’s Commerce Secretary: it was not the actions of a competent man. On the other hand, it was the actions of a man distracted other things. Gregg strikes me as a nervous man deeply worried about another shoe dropping.

Perhaps he is clean of scandal, but I suspect that Gregg had a fair understanding of what his staffers were doing in his name. After all, Kevin Koonce is not the only link between Senator Judd Gregg and Jack Abramoff.

Like most Republicans since 2005, Judd Gregg denies that he ever knew or had anything to do with Jack Abramoff. The money he returned from Abramoff’s clients was just a coincidence. In fact—to hear Gregg or one of his fellow Republicans explain it—any of the growing list of links between Abramoff and Gregg or Abramoff and the Republican Party are just random points of unrelated data. Yeah, right.

They are tap dancing in the graveyard.

Perhaps it was Jack Abramoff who best explained why this line of BS is so hard to believe when he told Vanity Fair in 2006:

"Any important Republican who comes out and says they didn’t know me is almost certainly lying," he says. Such lies are not just, well, lies, but dumb to boot, he adds, for, as his own humiliations suggest, old e-mails never die; they just sit on hard drives, waiting to be subpoenaed and then to be leaked to the press. "This is not an age when you can run away from facts," he declares. "I had to deal with my records, and others will have to deal with theirs."

It is looking like Judd Gregg will have to deal with his Abramoff record. Perhaps this is why he withdrew as the Commerce Secretary and why he has decided to retire from the Senate at the end of this term.

The doorway to Gregg’s involvement with Team Abramoff is spelled out in the factual basis of Todd Boulanger’s plea. This is only a doorway because the plea makes clear that the facts detailed in the plea are just a representative sample of the type of acts Boulanger committed to corrupt officials serving in the legislative branch and executive branch. This is important to keep in mind as you read the details of the factual basis concerning Senator Gregg’s former Legislative Director, Kevin Koonce. So, when it came to Abramoff’s influence on Senator Gregg’s office the facts included, but were not limited to the following (emphasis added):

Conduct Involving a Member of a Senator's Staff

  1. On July 16, 2002, defendant BOULANGER first met a legislative director for a United States Senator ("Staffer F"). Thereafter, from July 2002 through February 2004, defendant BOULANGER provided to Staffer F numerous tickets, meals and drinks, with the value of these things exceeding $10,000, to influence Staffer F to take official action favorable to Firm B's lobbying clients, and Staffer F on repeated occasions during this same time provided and agreed to provide such official actions. The things of value and official action included, for example, the following:
    a. On September 27, 2002, defendant BOULANGER emailed Staffer F that it was good to see him the other night and seeking Staffer F's help in preserving a $3.5 million earmark that was favorable to one of BOULANGER's lobbying clients, which earmark had been included in the House version of a defense appropriations bill.

    b. On January 22, 2003, defendant BOULANGER emailed Staffer F seeking his help in defeating a proposed amendment to a defense appropriations bill which would have enabled an Alaskan entity to establish a gambling casino, thereby threatening the market share of Native American tribes represented by Firm B which already owned or operated gambling casinos. Staffer F responded to defendant BOULANGER that he would tell his Senator and that his office had the proposed amendment "flagged."

    c. On February 14, 2003, Staffer F emailed defendant BOULANGER asking if he could "score some hockey tickets." Defendant BOULANGER forwarded the email to one of Abramoff's assistants noting, "[Staffer F] is a priority," and requesting, "Ice seats if possible." Defendant BOULANGER then responded to Staffer F that Staffer F was getting front row hockey tickets, telling him, "This is without a doubt the most in demand game of the season.... You, my friend, are in debt to me for a while!" Several days later, Staffer F replied, "Thanks [BOULANGER] - You the man. I got something for you too...."

    d. On April 1, 2003, defendant BOULANGER emailed one of Abramoffs assistants, asking if he could get two baseball tickets to an upcoming Redsox/Orioles baseball game for Staffer F, along with a parking pass, noting, "[Staffer F] is important." On April 2, 2003, Staffer F emailed defendant BOULANGER, "thanks for thinking of me for the sox. Let me know if! can ..... return the favor..."

    e. On June 12, 2003, Staffer F emailed defendant BOULANGER requesting tickets to a July 6th baseball game in Camden Yards. When defendant BOULANGER responded that Staffer F would get four tickets in the box suite, Staffer F replied, "but could you make sure there's beer this time...? [l} mean, the red sox, crab cakes, and fillet mignon's were nice but haha."

    f. On October 23, 2003, defendant BOULANGER emailed Abramoff that a potential client wanted to retain him to help with favorable action from the Senator for whom Staffer F worked. Defendant BOULANGER wrote, "easy money. [Staffer F] practically lives in our various suites. We are shady."

    g. On December 17, 2003, Staffer F emailed Hirni that he and another were going to be at Abramoffs restaurant, Signatures, the following day, "if you're around - likewise to [BOULANGER]." After Hirni forwarded Staffer F's email to BOULANGER, BOULANGER responded to Hirni that Staffer F just should have written, "'buy me some drinks".

 
This is the tip of an iceberg of corruption and I think Judd Gregg should be worried where this investigation is heading.

I’ve been following the Abramoff scandal for a long time—almost ten years now. It is a diverse and wide ranging scandal. It is complex by design and layered to prevent discovery and prosecution. Most of the crimes will never be punished. Everyday the clock clicks and more crimes will slide past the statute of limitations. The scandal broke in 2004 and for most of the last four years the Bush Administration slowed and obstructed the investigation every way they could while still preserving deniability. They have been able to slow the wheels of justice, but they have not been able to stop them. In the spring of 2007 an Abramoff mole in the DOJ was uncovered and since then the wheels of justice have been picking up speed.

Abramoff’s mole in the DOJ was Robert Coughlin and he has an interesting link to Judd Gregg. Coughlin is the grandson of Louis Wyman a former New Hampshire Congressman and NH Supreme Court judge. In 1974 Wyman ran for the Senate against John Durkin. It was the closest Senate Race in US History: In the end, a special election was held and Durkin won. For conservatives, this was a major outrage and a clear example of Democrats stealing an election. It was in reaction to the Wyman defeat that the modern conservative movement really began. They organized, used new tools like direct mail, formed new coalitions with Religious conservatives and introduced cultural wedge issues into every election cycle.

New Hampshire was ground zero for this movement. They beta tested their electoral strategy in the 1978 NH Senate race and won. In 1980 they took the strategy National and won the White House. In New Hampshire Senator Durkin was defeated and the state entered an era of Republican dominance. Judd Gregg road that conservative wave into office. In 1980 he was elected to the House. In 1988 he left the House and ran for Governor and in 1992 he was elected to the US Senate.

Being a conservative true believer helped Gregg win elections, but he also had the benefit of his family name. Gregg’s father was a former Governor of New Hampshire in the early 1950s. And Gregg’s father had appointed Louis Wyman (Robert Coughlin’s grandfather) as New Hampshire’s Attorney General. Wyman and Gregg the elder were supporters of Joe McCarthy-like witch hunts and the anti-communist hysteria of the day. In fact they were responsible for some of the worse Civil Liberty violations in New Hampshire history as they passed and enforced New Hampshire’s Subversive Activities Law.  Judd Gregg and Robert Coughlin came from the same wacko conservative stock.

Wyman died in 2002 and both Gregg and Coughlin paid tribute to him at the funeral service. I somehow find it hard to believe that Robert Coughlin and Judd Gregg never met and I think the Coughlin/Gregg connection is the Senator’s second link to the Abramoff scandal. In an October 2001 memo to his clients on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), Abramoff advised them that in the aftermath of 9-11 money was coming from Commerce and Justice—two Departments that Gregg oversaw as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary. The Boulanger plea makes it clear that Jack and his team knew how and were able to work Judd Gregg’s staff for their clients, but that’s all.

Boulanger is also from New Hampshire (as are some other players in this scandal). Like Abramoff and most of his Team, Boulanger is a true believer conservative. Before he started working for Abramoff, Boulanger was on the staff of another Senator from New Hampshire, Bob Smith. And Smith is all over the Abramoff billing records. He was one of Jack’s go-to Senators.

2002 was a big election cycle for the Republican Party. They were pulling out the stops to win big everywhere and by any means necessary. New Hampshire was a target and GOP dirty tricks cover the State like snow in January. Some, like the Phone Jamming Scandal are well documented. In the week leading up to the election, Todd Boulanger gave checks from two of Abramoff’s clients to a staffer in Gregg’s office. A donation in the same amount was made from Gregg’s office to the NH GOP. Some say that the two events are unrelated. Back in 2006 Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker reported that the money from Abramoff did not appear to be for the phone jamming scam, but that was based on a quote of one NH Democrat to a local NH paper.  Another report in Raw Story connects the New Hampshire phone jamming scandal dots to Abramoff and to Senator Gregg’s office (emphasis added):

Gregg's former chief of staff, Joel Maioli, was reported to have been involved in another Abramoff-related shenanigan.

New Hamphire author and journalist Jack McEnany reported that "former Republican State Committee executive director, and convicted phone jammer, Chuck McGee, has claimed under oath that Sen. Judd Gregg’s chief of staff, Joel Maiola, personally delivered checks totaling $15,000 from the Mississippi Choctaw and Agua Calienti tribes to the NH Republican State Committee office a week before the 2002 election."

McEnany notes that "this was the exact amount paid by the NH GOP to the now-defunct Republican Marketplace to affect the phone jamming scheme. The tribes were clients of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff." [snip]

After 27 years of working with Gregg, Maiola  left a year ago to start his own consulting firm.

In January of 2006, the Associated Press reported, "A spokesman for Sen. Judd Gregg said Wednesday the senator has never had any contact with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud, corruption and tax-evasion charges and has agreed to tell the FBI about alleged bribes to lawmakers."

"But Gregg spokesman Joel Maiola said records show donations came from two Indian tribes represented by Abramoff's firm in 2002 and 2004, totaling $12,000, which will be given to a New Hampshire-based charity," the AP reported.

So mark Judd Gregg down as another well-known Republican who claims that "I don’t know Jack". In the case of Judd Gregg, this is a little had to believe. After all, Abramoff and Gregg golfed together in Scotland.  The Washington Post mentioned the trip in their great profile of Jack Abramoff from December 2005:

In the Senate, Abramoff befriended Republicans and their staffers, along with some Democrats on the appropriations committees. In August 1999, he signed up for the National Republican Senatorial Committee's "Tartan Invitational," in which a half-dozen Republican senators and their aides spent a few days with about 50 lobbyists golfing at the exclusive St. Andrews Links in Scotland.

The following year, Abramoff figured out how to use his clients to fund his own trips to St. Andrews with lawmakers. The first guests were DeLay and his aides.

The National Journal reported on that "Tartan Invitational" fundraiser back on September 9, 1999 and guess which Senators were golfing with Jack (emphasis added):

Among the GOP senators joining the lobbyists were Majority Whip Nickles, NRSC Chairman Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Murkowski and Sens. John Ashcroft of Missouri and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Somehow, I have a hard time believing that Judd Gregg "never had any contact with lobbyist Jack Abramoff"—there are just too many links.

Here is another one: John Mashburn. He was on Gregg’s staff from February 2003 though the end of 2006. Before that he was a consultant for the Senate and on Trent Lott’s Staff. Before that he was a lobbyist working with Jack Abramoff on Team Abramoff at Preston Gates. Before that he was on Senator John Ashcroft’s staff.

He started working with Jack in 1997 when he went he went through the revolving door between being a Senate staffer and being a lobbyist. It was Mashburn who helped Team Abramoff line up dozens of staffers to travel to the Marianas Islands to protect sweatshops. He came to Gregg’s office with deep ties to Team Abramoff and left to (once again) become a lobbyist—this yime for Womble Carlyle, where he worked with another Abramoff crony, Edward Miller (a former Deputy Governor for Maryland who seems to have gone into hiding as the Abramoff investigation heats up—but that is a story for another day).

Koonce, Boulanger, Mashburn and Abramoff himself are just a few of the links between Gregg and the scandal. I am certain that there are more. These links are being investigated, probed and tested. More guilty pleas are in the wings and they will reveal more scandal details. Judd Gregg was in a position to help Abramoff and many other lobbyists. From where I sit, it looks like he did just that.

I was worried when he was nominated to be Commerce Secretary. He was a bad choice. I am relieved that he has backed out.

The trouble with including Republicans in the Obama Cabinet is that there are very few of them who are not involved in scandal. As Jack said:

"Any important Republican who comes out and says they didn’t know me is almost certainly lying," he says. Such lies are not just, well, lies, but dumb to boot, he adds, for, as his own humiliations suggest, old e-mails never die; they just sit on hard drives, waiting to be subpoenaed and then to be leaked to the press. "This is not an age when you can run away from facts," he declares. "I had to deal with my records, and others will have to deal with theirs."

We dodged a bullet on this one.

Judd Gregg and the Republican Party did not. They have cause for concern. The scandals of the Gingrich/DeLay/Bush era are not going away. More details will leak out.

This Culture of Corruption requires a through investigation. Without one, the toxic players spawn by the K Street Project will infect the politics of our Nation for decades to come. I am glad to see a revitalized DOJ under Eric Holder, but I think we need a Special Prosecutor to investigate, expose and punish this crime wave of political corruption.

It is time for the truth and way past time for justice.

Cheers

Originally posted to dengre on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 12:30 AM PST.

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