The Hollywood ‘Treatment’
I’ve avidly followed the various shenanigans of Jack Abramoff in this blog. The man’s life begs to be made into a mapcap Hollywood movie. As well it might be. A May, 2005 New York Times Magazine profile by Michael Crowley has him returning to his previous Hollywood producing career making action films: “He said he wants to have another try at making movies — this time ‘for the audience that was rediscovered by The Passion.”’ He has already written a few treatments, he said.”
His level of sheer buffoonery, effrontery, self-pity and hypocrisy knows absolutely no bounds. And the tangled web of sleazy connections among Republican powerbrokers like Tom DeLay and Grover Norquist and Jewish right-wing power brokers like the Rabbi Lapin brothers, David and Daniel, is breathtaking. Just as a fer instance, according to the New Republic‘s (subscription required) Rabbi to the Right (June 20, 2005), Daniel first introduced Abramoff to DeLay. The rest of the sordid tale is history.
Crowley describes an attempt by Abramoff to explain the foul homophobic racist langugage in his e-mails toward his Indian clients and even his own associates:
Abramoff suggested that he dumbed down his words to motivate [his associate] Scanlon. ”I didn’t have a lot of time to articulate things,” he said. ”Sometimes I would find myself speaking to people in the language that they speak.” He likened himself to the Biblical character Jacob, who dressed in his brother Esau’s clothes. Jacob did this, Abramoff told me, as ”a more effective means of communicating with Esau.”
Despite an e mail to Rabbi Lapin in which he expressed an interest in receiving a bogus award as a “Scholar of Talmudic Studies,” Abramoff has no gift for homiletics. He deliberately misrepresents the Biblical story. Jacob dressed in Esau’s clothing to trick his father into giving him (Jacob) Esau’s inheritance. What’s really happened here is that Abramoff, like Jacob, has engaged in trickery to steal the Indian tribes’ “inheritance.” Only Abramoff is too ignorant to realize how analogous his scandalous behavior is to Jacob’s.
Yet he still deludes himself into believing his greed was all in the service of God, religion and tzedakah:
Abramoff insisted that his hunger for riches was driven by charitable impulses. ”I have spent years giving away virtually everything I made,” he said. ”Frankly, I didn’t need to have a kosher delicatessen. That was money I could have bought a yacht with. I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle. I felt that the resources coming into my hands were the consequence of God putting them there.”
The Times also notes that Abramoff tried to explain his use of various expletives and derogatory terms for his Indian clients (”we need to get some $ from those monkeys!!!!” and ”They are plain stupid. . . . Morons”) by saying that in the same e-mails he refers to God’s name as ‘G-d’ an Orthodox practice denoting humility in His presence. The fellow sounds like an absolute megalomaniac. He even has the temerity to tell the Times reporter: ”I did this within a philosophical framework, and a moral and legal framework.” Despite e-mail evidence to the contrary, Abramoff tells the reporter: “Tribes are not a bunch of idiots and simpletons.”
Is this guy for real? And what does it say about all the Republican power brokers and their judgment of character that they showered this guy with access and privilege? If this incident doesn’t cry out for greater federal controls on political fundraising and lobbying I don’t know what does.
Now, the Times reports that Abramoff has been indicted by a Florida grand jury on charges that he falsified a $23 million loan document that was part of a deal to buy a series of floating gambling barges off the Florida coast. The AP reports:
The indictment against Abramoff charges that he used income from SunCruz [the gambling venture] to finance political fund-raising activities, including events at private boxes at Washington-area sports venues such as the MCI Center and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
AP is reporting that he has surrendered to federal authorities in Los Angeles. Has anyone seen a news photo of his surrender? If so, please provide me a link. Jack Abramoff in handcuffs, now that’d be a sight. I know it’s positively ghoulish to wish another person ill-fortune. But if anyone deserved such a wish wouldn’t it be Abramoff?
What do you think are the chances for more indictments down the line? If I were a gambling man (sorry, Jack, but I’m not) I know what I’d wager.
TalkLeft has some interesting added news about the growing scandal and theories about who’s talking to whom to save their skin.
There’s a great compendium of media coverage of Abramoff’s career over the years at the Center for Media and Democracy.
You probably won’t see pics of Abramoff in handcuffs because his 12-y.o. daughter would be in them. He was traveling in L.A. with her and the F.B.I. insisted on taking him into custody there, rather than let him fly home and surrender. [from NPR]
Oh, here’s an update for you: Although the judge approved bail, the FBI says Abramoff may use his funds “only if federal prosecutors there determine that the money came from legitimate sources.” (ABCNews.com)
So even though the judge assumes Abramoff is innocent until proven guilty, federal prosecutors assume his money is guilty until proven innocent. This seems to be a remarkable attitude, considering Abramoff has never been convicted of a crime!
I wonder if the prosecutors are doing this as a way to put Abramoff under time pressure: if he can’t convince the Feds his money is legal before Shabbat, Abramoff goes to the clink, and maybe images of this lobbyist in handcuffs will be splashed all over TV. Well, if the prosecutors feel they can’t really get a conviction, I suppose they believe they can at least make him look guilty.
Richard Silverstein says
Solomon 2’s first comment about Abramoff traveling w. his daughter essentially parrots the comments of Abramoff’s attorney who’s trying to drum up what little sympathy there might be for him in the world.
Solomon 2’s 2nd comment is odd. I’m not a criminal attorney & don’t know the norms about posting bail. But if you’re accused of being a drug dealer should you be allowed to use your drug profits to post bail? I believe that Abramoff should be afforded all the protections any other citizen is afforded, but no more. And Solomon 2 also distorts the Justice Department’s pt. of view on this matter. They don’t view his money as “guilty.” They merely want him to use untainted funds to post bond.
I say to Solomon 2 if you feel sympathy for Abramoff and are pulling for him to get off scott free, you may want to rethink that position as you hear in the coming months in the newspaper, in court and in government hearings all the things he’s accused of doing. Even if he’s only convicted once (which as you said he hasn’t been…yet) it would, in my opinion, be only the tip of the iceberg for what he could be prosecuted for and convicted.
And why in heavens name would you already presume the prosecutors feel they can’t really get a conviction? That’s preposterous. With all the work & caseload they have if you think they want to deliberately take on a case they know they can’t win–you know nothing about how a federal prosecutor’s office works.
And please don’t try to pull out the tactic they used to try to defend Steve Rosen by saying the Justice Department has a vendetta against Jews. That would be a shameless misuse of a legitimate Jewish concern: anti-Semitism.
1) I was “parroting” NPR, not Abramoff’s lawyer. I don’t know where NPR got its information.
2) Abramoff was a multi-millionaire long before he was in the casino or lobbying biz; he made some violent Hollywood movies (Red Scorpion I & II) back in the 80s or 90s. Last W. Post article I read stated that his parents thus had to help with the bond, but he now has to prove that their money, too, is legitimate! No one ever accused them of anything criminal!
3) I last looked at this matter in May, when the NY Times Mag did a spread on Abramoff. I expected an indictment after I read the article, but more as a polite, pro-forma matter. But then, why hadn’t they done it already? This stuff has been under investigation for years.
4) I have the idea, reading in and in between the lines of the Washington Post, that what is going on isn’t a “vendetta against Jews”, or even the Dems using Abramoff to attack the Republicans, but a power-play between the McCain and DeLay factions of the Republican party. The Dems are going along for the ride on general anti-Republican principles. Thus the intense pressure on federal prosecutors.to make Abramoff look like a criminal, even if they can’t prove him one. (Do you still think that I “know nothing about how a federal prosecutor’s office works?”)
5) If the prosecutors had behaved as courteously towards Abramoff as they have towards his partner, – who was allowed to surrender quietly at one-tenth the bail – I would not give so much weight to the idea that Abramoff might be innocent.
6) Abramoff is accused of a number of vile things, and has even admitted some of them. Yet his actions as a lobbyist don’t – yet – appear criminal or even improper by Washington standards; it’s just come out in the open more.
7) The “tip of the iceberg” argument seems quite unlikely at the moment. When a conspiracy is threatened, the conspirators circle their wagons in defense. In contrast, for many months now Abramoff has been treated as Radioactive Man. No one stands with him; no one will fall with him.
8) Ultimately the case over the wire transfers may boil down to the issue of whether Abramoff’s probable testimony that he was the victim rather than the criminal gives him the benefit of “reasonable doubt”. So the question of how far his word – and that of Jews in general – can be trusted will be on the table of public discussion, food for anti-semites everywhere.
Richard Silverstein says
Solomon 2: If you read the NYT article I link to in the post you’ll find that the author quotes Abramoff’s lawyer saying precisely the same things. So that’s NPR’s source.
First, I don’t think of indictments as “polite” or “pro forma.” It’s a serious matter. You can go away for a lot of yrs. depending on what you’re indicted for. Second, you don’t seem aware of how criminal investigations work. It’s par for the course for some cases to take years of investigatory work before an indictment is made. I’ve never heard from any government source that an indictment was imminent on anything Abramoff’s been charged with so I see no reason to ask why the government’s taking so long. And third, the investigation hasn’t been going on “for years.” I’ve been following this since the beginning & I estimate it’s been in the news for perhaps a year, if that. That’s nothing by the standards of some criminal investigations.
Keep in mind, Jack Abramoff had/has some of the most powerful friends in U.S. government. No prosecutor is going to blithely or quickly gather a case & attempt a prosecution. I bet the prosecutor right now is trying to “turn” one of Abramoff’s subordinates in order to testify against him. Doing this (if they succeed in doing it at all) takes delicate negotiation & lots of time. So sit back & let the wheels of justice turn. Then we’ll see what will shake out.
So you believe that federal prosecutors are in cahoots with the “McCain faction” of the party to destroy Abramoff & then DeLay? That’s pretty far-fetched. Tom DeLay has basically sealed his own future fate by political overreaching (& being as greedy as Abramoff too). DeLay doesn’t need John McCain to destroy himself as he’s basically done it already.
Abramoff’s partner was not traveling (as Abramoff was) & probably surrendered in Florida. When you’re outside a jurisdiction (halfway across the country) it makes things complicated. And since when do prosecutors have an obligation to be “courteous” toward a suspect? Also, Abramoff has a long list of suspect dealings to answer for legally while I assume his partner has only this charge against him. I’d say some sterner treatment for Abramoff is warranted.
You’re entitled to think Abramoff’s innocent. That’s the American way. But I just hope you won’t go overboard (& I don’t think you have) as I expect some will by seeing conspiracies and anti-Semitism behind every action & statement from the government (as I’m expecting some will).
It doesn’t matter whether Abramoff has tons of allies or none. As I said, just about every powerful right wing politician in DC either did him favors or vice versa. At the very least, they all broke Congressional ethic rules in accepting, in some instances, thousands of dollars in free meals at his restaurant. Then you have the DeLay junkets to Scotland, which included most of the powerful Republican leadership paid for my Abramoff’s clients. All of ths stinks to high heaven AND may be illegal (on his part or theirs).
Therefore, the prosecutors MUST go slowly & carefully over every part of this case before they decide how to proceed. In taking down Abramoff (if they do that), they could conceivably be taking down lots of powerful Republicans. You don’t do something like that lightly if you’re a good prosecutor.
How can Abramoff argue he was a “victim,” when he’s alleged to have submitted forged documents saying he had $23 million in personal funds which he didn’t actually have & which led his financiers to pony up $60 million to him? In what conceivable way could he be a victim?
Yes, it will be food for anti-Semites unfortunately. But my feeling is that you don’t gain anything by saying regarding Abramoff: “he’s a good Jew, right or wrong.” We should say there are bad eggs in every bunch. Jews are not perfect just like every other ethnic & religious group. But when we have a bad one, we don’t coddle, we don’t protect, we don’t leap to his defense no matter what. We wait to see whether charges are proven & substantiated before we decide whether he’s a good or bad Jew.
And the anti-Semites can suck eggs as far as I’m concerned. If it wasn’t Abramoff, they’d find something else to go on about.
RS, thank you for expanding your thoughts. I guess the courtroom is the proper place for answering our questions, as well as determining Abramoff’s guilt or not.