Morning Report 9/29/05
You Don't Know Jack
On the heels of the most destructive storm in U.S. history comes the biggest political storm we're likely to ever see.
This plunderstorm, gathering strength for what seems like the longest time, is heading straight for the White House. But in the America of 2005, that's no guarantee that it will do any damage.
Nevertheless, the Godzilla-sized scandal underlying the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay could be the same kind of watershed in U.S. politics that Watergate was.
In fact, compared with this looting, Watergate really was a "third-rate burglary."
With any luck at all, everyone in the country will have heard of Jack Abramoff by this time next year.
As Bloomberg News reporter Jonathan D. Salant wrote last Friday when one of the top government procurement officials was arrested:
- The widening investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is moving beyond the confines of tawdry influence-peddling to threaten leading figures in the Republican hierarchy that dominates Washington.
This week's arrest of David Safavian, the former head of procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, in connection with a land deal involving Abramoff brings the probe to the White House for the first time.
But not the last. You can be sure of that. Salant noted:
- Safavian was one of three former Abramoff associates who joined the Bush administration. Another was Patrick Pizzella, assistant secretary of labor for administration and management. The third was Susan Ralston, special assistant to White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove.
Safavian, who was right there to rubber-stamp the quickie contracts for Halliburton and others to clean up after Katrina, will no longer be signing government documents — at least for the executive branch. His ties to the right-wing GOP hierarchy are typical of the threads running throughout Plundergate, Plunderstorm, whatever you want to call it. As Salant noted:
- Safavian once worked with Abramoff at one lobbying firm and was a partner of Grover Norquist, a national Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, at another. Safavian traveled to Scotland in 2002 with Abramoff, Representative Robert Ney of Ohio and another top Republican organizer, Ralph Reed, Southeast regional head of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.
Until he was called on the carpet during the probe of Abramoff, Safavian was primarily known as a guy who went golfing with Abramoff in Scotland in 2002. That's a popular venue: In 2000, DeLay took a golf excursion to Scotland — charged to Abramoff's credit card, as the Washington Post reported this past April. We know what DeLay's job is. You understand, of course, what kind of job Safavian held, right? As the Washington Post put it on September 20:
- Until his resignation on the day the criminal complaint against him was signed, Safavian was the top administrator at the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he set purchasing policy for the entire government.
Abramoff, however, is the dwarf star in this galaxy of goniffs. Maybe you'll see him as I see him: wearing a Native American war bonnet. And why not?
How big is the potential damage from Plundergate? Let's just say that the right-wing Republicans' lawyers are worried. As Salant put it:
- Some Republicans acknowledge they are nervous. "Sure there's a concern," said former Representative Jack Quinn of New York, who's now president of Cassidy & Associates, a Washington lobbying firm. "But like everyone else, we have to wait and see where the investigation goes."
Abramoff, 46, a top fund-raiser for Bush's re-election campaign, is under investigation by a government task force consisting of the Justice Department's public integrity section, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Interior Department's inspector general. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is conducting another inquiry.
This is the guy whom DeLay, the inexplicably but indisputably boss of Capitol Hill, has called "one of my closest and dearest friends." In fact, DeLay's former spokesman, Michael Scanlon, and deputy chief of staff, William Jarrell, later worked with Abramoff.
And Abramoff was also a dear friend of numerous Native American tribes — at least to their faces:
- Abramoff diverted funds paid to him by Indian tribe clients that were supposed to be used on lobbying activities to a variety of personal projects, according to testimony and e-mails released at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing. The personal projects ranged from an Orthodox Jewish academy to an Israeli sniper school; some money also went to pay off a personal debt, according to the testimony and e-mails.
Abramoff and Scanlon took in more than $66 million in fees from 2001 to 2004 from tribal clients, according to Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Indian affairs panel. In one e-mail released by the Senate committee, Abramoff wrote to Scanlon, "I have to meet with the monkeys from the Choctaw tribal counsel [sic]."
Pretty rude shit from a guy who paints himself as a pious, devout, and philanthropic Jew. For more on that subject, see Richard Silverstein's essay, "Tainted Tzedekah," on BeliefNet:
- What, as Jews, do we think of someone who earns money from a tainted source and donates it as tzedakah (the Hebrew term for philanthropy)? What do we say about the donor and the tzedakah itself? Does the ‘good’ of the mitzvah (good deed) outweigh the bad of the tainted source? What obligation, if any, does the donee have in terms of accepting or returning the money?
Even in his tzedakah, Abramoff’s behavior may be suspect. Newsweek reports that he may have diverted funds from a youth sports charity he founded to provide weapons for West Bank settlers. Anyone who raises funds for one purpose and funnels them to an unrelated cause commits a grave violation of fundraising and ethical principles.
Here are just a few of the themes incorporated by — I don't know what to call it — Plundergate:
Money, racism, bigotry, sanctimony, religion, Native Americans, gambling, golf, our colonial past and present, Reagan's "revolution," Gingrich's "Contract with America," the Christian Coalition, gerrymandering, the unholy alliance of right-wing Christians and right-wing Jews, golf, high living on the public tab, lobbyists, tribes, both West Banks (New Orleans and Israel), family values, defense contractors, run-D.C. crackers, big cigars, golf, boorish behavior, Hebrew schools, Christian schools, nonstop God-talk.
Did I mention golf?