Jailed lobbyist returns to haunt corridors of Capitol Hill


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The Independent Online

When the gates of Cumberland Correctional Facility in Maryland slammed shut on Jack Abramoff in November 2006, you could almost hear the sigh of relief across the nation's capital.

Behind bars, Abramoff had been stripped of his status as one of Washington's best-connected and most powerful lobbyists, and instead could be damned as a criminal who had corrupted US politics, bribed Congressmen and their staffers, and brought public opprobrium on an otherwise reputable system.

In Cumberland he snorted with derision at that idea – and now he is out, back in the spotlight and determined to prove he was no bad apple. Money has rotted Washington to the core, he says, and the reforms Congress instituted after the "Abramoff scandal" have done nothing to mask the stink.

Abramoff's re-emergence, to promote a mea culpa autobiography that went on sale last week, is already causing mischief on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are hoping to reopen investigations into his activities, just in time for next year's elections. The revelations of widespread corruption, and Abramoff's links to senior Republicans, including then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, helped Democrats to their election victory back in 2006.

Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said it might be "worthwhile" to call Abramoff to testify at a new hearing "in order to complete our examination into the extent of his influence over White House and executive-branch officials" during the George W Bush era. His Republican colleagues, who control the committee, immediately said no to re-opening that can of worms.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to a range of corruption charges, including defrauding Native American clients on whose behalf he was lobbying for casino permissions. More than 20 people were eventually convicted because of their dealings with him, including Congressman Bob Ney, who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for accepting bribes that included a fancy trip to play golf in Scotland.

Abramoff says he considered calling his tell-all memoir The Idiot's Guide to Buying a Congressman, although in the end he plumped for Capitol Punishment. His self-promotion may extend to a Facebook game for wannabe lobbyists – it is in the works, called Congressional Jack – and a reality TV show.

After serving three-and-a-half years of his six-year jail term, he is bitter at the hypocrisy of politicians who singled him out for investigation, despite having taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from his firm. In interviews to promote his

book, he has sounded menacingly close to revealing instances of corruption. He witnessed "at least a dozen" cases of insider trading, he said, for example by staffers who bet against companies while they were working on Congressional investigations. His most damning claims, though, are that nothing has changed while he has been away.

Otherwise, corruption is as simple as saying to someone: "You know, when you're done working on the Hill, we'd very much like you to consider coming to work for us." He told CBS television's 60 Minutes: "The moment I said that to them, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they're gonna do."