Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street says the coldly amoral line: “Greed is good.” Well, I think greed is funny. It’s also sad when its uncovered and faces the light of day.
Lobbyist as a fat-cat
(credit: Thomas Butler/The Hill)
Take the sorry plight of Jack Abramoff, former K Street powerhouse lobbyist and Tom DeLay hanger on. Today’s New York Times reveals this deliciously hilarious e mail that Abramoff sent to a rabbi:
“I hate to ask your help with something so silly, but I have been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, which is a very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc.,” Mr. Abramoff wrote in an e-mail message on Sept. 15, 2000, to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a prominent social conservative who runs Toward Tradition, an alliance of Jews and evangelical Christians.
“Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none,” Mr. Abramoff wrote. “I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?”
You might gather from this that Jack Abramoff is an Orthodox Jew. I am a strongly identified Jew. But I don’t hold much stock in the theology or political stance of most Orthodox Jews. But even if I was a devoutly Orthodox Jew, Jack Abramoff would bring a chill to my very bones. A good Jew does good deeds. Jack Abramoff did good deeds. He stole tens of millions of dollars from various Indian tribes (how did they let him get away with this??) and used it to open a DC kosher deli so he and his friends would have a lunchtime watering hole in which they could hold their kosher heads high. He donated money to the DC Orthodox day school (again with clients’ money) which his own children attended. But there’s some kind of disconnect going on. Somehow Jack could feel good about stealing Native American money because he was doing good with it. Weird. That’s not the kind of Orthodox Jew I’d want to be.
Now to get back to the e mail: Abramoff’s pompous and terribly insecure personality is on display in his desperate need for validation from the good rabbi (even if it was fake validation). What I’m dying to know is what Rabbi Lapin wrote back to him. Did he reject him? Or did he coddle him as I’d expect this rabbi would do with such an important “personality” as Jack Abramoff? Of did he tell him it would be fine to call himself a Scholar of Talmudic Studies?
Some of my intrepid readers have provided links to the Lapin-Abramoff correspondence (pgs. 42-43) and eye-opening it is. Before we quote this embarrassing material, I should note that Hillel’s comment below accepts Rabbi Lapin’s claim that he was merely humoring Abramoff in his reply. It’s clear below that Abramoff was dead serious and Lapin is a willing co-conspirator. The first e mail from Abramoff to Lapin is quoted above. The ones that follow are:
Lapin: Mazel tov, the Cosmos Club is a big deal.
Abramoff: Thanks so much for everything…
Lapin: Do let me know if you want to work on this today. I am home till I leave…to do the show…
Abramoff: Just tried you & got a busy signal.
Lapin: Sorry I didn’t get back till late…
Abramoff: …Hope we can chat tomorrow to get the awards moving. Thanks again.
Lapin: Yes, I just need to know what needs to b e produced…Letters? Plaques? Neither?
Abramoff: Probably just a few clever titles of awards, dates and that’s it. As long as you can be the person to verify them (or we can have someone else verify one and you the other), we should be set. Do you have any creative titles or should I dip into my bag of tricks?
The fact that the good rabbi goes along with Abramoff’s chicanery in this exchange does little credit to the stainless reputation that such a figure should have. With his continuing support for Abramoff I see Lapin as just another Baruch Korff (he was Nixon’s “chief rabbi” during the Watergate affair).
Jack Abramoff’s main problem was that he didn’t study enough Talmud or Chumash (Five Books of Moses). If he studied them at all, he surely forgot that little commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”