June 09, 2008

New Abramoff Plea is Trouble for McCain & the GOP

New Abramoff Plea is Trouble for McCain & the GOP

It has been a busy week.

We have a Nominee. Senator Clinton gave a great speech and is showing everybody how to unify the Party.

This is good news.

And yet, some important stories are getting lost in the flood of end-of-primary Diaries.

This is one of those stories.

Last Monday, on the eve of the final Democratic Primaries and while John McCain was practicing his performance art shtick in front of a green screen, word came that yet another Republican had plead guilty in the ongoing Abramoff corruption scandal.

The latest perp is a fellow named John Albaugh. He used to be the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK). Now he is a cooperating witness—just another GOP insider spilling his guts to the Feds.

Albaugh’s plea deal is a very interesting and merits an examination.

It not only spells trouble for the Republican Party, it also calls into question John McCain’s investigation cover-up of the Abramoff Scandal.

To the jump...

John Albaugh is significant cooperating witness. His plea and the information released to support it indicate that the Abramoff corruption investigation is active, growing and focusing on the actions of a number of Elected officials.

The plea also calls John McCain’s "investigation" of Jack Abramoff into question (more on that in a moment).

But first, who is John Albaugh and what did he do?

Let’s let turn to the AP for some details:

A one-time top aide to former Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook pleaded guilty Monday to a conspiracy to defraud the House as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

John Albaugh admitted in federal court in Washington that he accepted meals and sports and concert tickets, along with other perks, from lobbyists in exchange for official favors.

Albaugh, 41, is the latest in a string of more than a dozen former government officials and lobbyists to plead guilty in the scandal involving members of Congress, their aides and Bush administration officials. He faces 18 to 24 months in prison, but that sentence could be reduced based on his continued cooperation with the government's investigation.

"Mr. Albaugh decided to accept the government's proposal and move on with his life," his attorney Jeffrey Jacobovitz said after the hearing before U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle. "He deeply regrets and accepts full responsibility for his involvement in these matters and their impact upon his family and the community."

During the eight years Albaugh worked as chief of staff to Istook, the congressman accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates. Istook has not been charged with any wrongdoing and is now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

Istook said Monday he was "as surprised and as shocked as anyone" at the case.

I love the way Istook is "surprised." This is all the more surprising when one reads the Information filing explaining the crimes that Albaugh was admitting in his guilty plea.

Istook is "Representative 4" and point #20 from the Overt Acts section of Information filing indicates that Istook had an active role in the criminal conspiracy (emphasis added):

20. On or about March 19, 2003, at the suggestion of defendant ALBAUGH, Representative 4 called Jack Abramoff, thanking him in advance for use of one of his FedEx Field suites for an upcoming fundraising event. During that call, Representative 4 also asked Abramoff which particular projects Firm B's clients wanted in the transportation bill. Abramoff thereafter sent an e-mail to the lobbyists on his team telling them that Representative 4 had "basically asked what we want in the transportation bill," and instructing the lobbyists to "make sure we load up our entire Christmas list."

TPM Muckraker further explains how the former Congressman is in trouble:

Federal prosecutors may have their sites on former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) after getting a guilty plea from his former chief of staff.

Istook was not accused of any criminal conduct. But the court papers charging Istook's former chief of staff, John Albaugh, portray Istook as an apparent participant in Abramoff's influence peddling scheme. [snip]

The alleged telephone call is at odds with Istook's own account of his contacts with Abramoff. He told a reporter in April 2006 that he'd never spoken to Abramoff on the phone [snip]

The court papers charging Albaugh include several instances where Istook, referred to as "Representative 4," received benefits from Abramoff's lobbying firm.

Jack was doing favors for Istook and his staff. In return, Istook and his staff did favors for Abramoff.

Jack and Ernest worked out that broad strokes of the relationship and the details were delegated to Albaugh for Istook and "Lobbyist C" for Abramoff.

"Lobbyist C" is Kevin Ring.

Before working for Team Abramoff, Ring worked for John Doolittle, John Ashcroft and others. Kevin Ring is the current target of the Abramoff investigation. He is not cooperating and the Feds want him to crack. This plea deal is designed to put pressure on Kevin Ring and ABC News fills in some of the reasons why the DOJ wants Ring:

As the Associated Press eventually noted, Mr. C is likely Kevin Ring, a former Hill aide who went to work for Jack Abramoff in 2001. And strange as it may seem, ex-staffer Ring may be a more enticing target for prosecutors than the ex-congressman in the plea documents, Republican Ernest Istook of Oklahoma.

Why? Because Ring, already reported to be under investigation by the Abramoff prosecutors, is considered to have been Abramoff's liaison to Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., Ring's old boss. And Doolittle is a fellow those prosecutors have been trying to get at for a long, long time.

Indeed, Doolittle appears to have become something of a great white whale to prosecutors working the Abramoff scandal. In the past year and a half they have raided his home and his wife's office, subpoenaed mountains of documents, interviewed as many as a half-dozen of the lawmaker's former aides, even reportedly offered Doolittle a plea deal. (He reportedly turned it down; both Doolittle and his wife Julie have maintained their innocence).

Reviewing press accounts, Doolittle appears to have accepted many more gifts and contributions than Istook did from Abramoff, his team and his clients. And he reportedly took more actions favorable to Abramoff than Istook. Also, Doolittle is still in office. For prosecutors in the Public Integrity Section, convicting an active lawmaker is more professionally rewarding than putting a retiree behind bars.

Doolittle is a target and Ring can help put him away, but that is not all that Kevin can do.

The McCain led investigation of Jack Abramoff collected over 750,000 pages of documents. Less than 7,000 have been released. In the small number of documents released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee (SIAC) there is an interesting series of emails on pages 283 to 297 in this PDF.

The emails are between Jack's aides, folks like Kevin Ring, Neil Votz and others. In the emails, they are talking about the February 22, 2004 WP article that broke the Abramoff scandal into the news-cycle.

Starting on page 285 and working backwards to page 284, Kevin Ring and Matt DeMazza discuss the article in a series of emails (emphasis added):

Matt: So is it 100% Scanlon's fault, or is Jack partially to blame?

Kevin: Jack is equally to blame. He talked the tribes into hiring Scanlon.

Matt: That's what I gathered from the story, but I wasn't sure if you knew something that the reporter didn't know ...

So is your future with G.T. in questions?

Kevin: I don't think mine is. But the impact will be felt by everyone. Unsettling after buying a new house.

I know more than the article and the truth is worse.

Kevin Ring knows who did what and when and that is why he is a target. And there are others he can give up besides Doolittle. Don Young is clearly in the sights of the DOJ. After all, Jack used Young’s Transportation Committee as an ATM for his clients (just as he used to use the Resources Committee when Young ran it). And point #2 of the Information behind Albaugh’s plea makes it clear that those connected to the Transportation Committee and transportation related appropriations should be worried:

2. From in or about January 2003 through in or about January 2005, Representative 4 served as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury & Independent Agencies ("the Subcommittee").

If I was a Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury & Independent Agencies anytime between 2000 and 2005, I would have a lawyer on speed dial. Especially now that an Abramoff related guilty plea has the DOJ identifying the earmarks Republican lawmakers inserted to benefit Abramoff and his clients.

Point #37 of the Albaugh Plea Information showed how lobbyists get earmarks into an Appropriations Bill:

37. On or about November 12, 2003, in response to an e-mail from Lobbyist C asking whether he is "still conferencing" on the transportation appropriations bill, defendant ALBAUGH then responded, "[y]es, it is helping your projects out."

Lobbyist C responded, "WOOHOO. Tell me when you can. . . thanks." Defendant ALBAUGH subsequently responded:

"[Client A] is now at $1.25 m
[Client B] $1 m
[Client C] $1.2 m
[ClientD] $1.4m
Whos [sic] the man!"

Now I have often come across some evidence like this in the Abramoff documents that I have collected. I know that something had been passed, inserted and/or appropriated for Jack, but I have not been able to track the items down. Fortunately, Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) is an organization that can track these items down. The Hill shared the work of TCS with a wider audience (emphasis added):

Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), a watchdog group devoted to eliminating corruption and waste in government spending, released an analysis Tuesday of the earmarks Ring attained on behalf of his clients. It found that several of Ring’s clients received earmarks in the fiscal 2004 Transportation appropriations bill, which Istook oversaw in his role as subcommittee chairman.

The court documents likely refer to some of the earmarks that Ring’s clients received, according to the TCS evaluation. At least four of the earmarks in question went to a Ring client based in Doolittle’s district.

"This case demonstrates the nature of corruption in the earmarking process," said Ryan Alexander, TCS president. "We cannot continue with a broken system where we only discover corruption through criminal investigation."

The earmarks TCS scrutinized include:

• A $3.5 million earmark to construct Highway 323 from Alzada to Ekalaka in Carter County, Mont.
• A $1.425 million earmark for a Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ Roads project.
• A $5 million earmark to study the use of diesel multiple units that benefited Colorado Railcar Manufacturing, a Fort Lupton, Colo., Company.
• Elk Grove, Calif., in former Rep. Doug Ose’s (R-Calif.) district, received two earmarks: $300,000 for the Sheldon Road SR 99 Interchange and $960,000 for a traffic operations center.
• Lincoln, Calif., in Doolittle’s district received four earmarks: $500,000 for expansion of regional buses; $1 million for the Lincoln Boulevard Improvement Project; $2 million for Lincoln bypass-SR65/Ferrari Interchange construction; and $250,000 for the Auburn Ravine Bridge.
• The Michigan-based Saginaw Chippewa tribe received two earmarks: $1.2 million for the Transportation Improvement Project and another $1 million for the Transit Multimodal Downtown Transit Facility.

It should worry the GOP that TCS found more earmarks connected to Ring and Abramoff than were mentioned in the Albaugh plea. This is just the tip of an iceberg of corruption.

As this investigation grinds on the GOP is in trouble.

And so is John McCain.

Two of Jack’s Native American clients are on the list. Together they took in over $3.6 million in Abramoff placed earmarks in a single section of a single Appropriation Bill. This would seem to suggest that Jack Abramoff was an effective lobbyist for his clients. It would seem to suggest that he did more than just swindle them out of their money. It seems to be evidence that Abramoff used his connections to get Federal funds for his clients in return for the money they gave him.

Jack Abramoff is in jail because he committed many crimes, but he did his job very well. He delivered for his Party. Jack was a bagman for the GOP. It was his job to move the money around and Jack specialized in moving large sums of off-the-books money that could be used late in an election cycle to flood the zone and win the day for the GOP. Since Jack left the field and went to prison, the Republican Party has had trouble replacing him. Jack moved the money and they miss him.

Jack used his clients as ways to get the large sums of cash into our political system. At any given time he was involved in any number of schemes. It was always a balancing act for Jack. He lived a life of contradictions. He exploited some of his clients and he also delivered the goods for his clients. Sure, he charged around $500 an hour for his time, but his clients got a return on their investment. This is a "secret" about Abramoff that has been obscured by the Abramoff "Pure Greed Myth" created by John McCain.

On February 22, 2004 folks in DC opened their Sunday Washington Post to read about Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and the way they "ripped off" their Native American clients. The surface story was true, but another larger story was hidden in the details. That story, if exposed, would decimate devastate the Republican Party in a massive corruption scandal and doom the effort to re-elect George W. Bush.

John McCain leapt into action. He had a massive scandal to cover up and no time to loose. He took charge of the investigation by the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee. As I have mentioned before, he gathered 750,000 documents. He had ALL of Abramoff’s billing records and emails from two lobbying firms and documents stretching back a decade.

At this moment, John McCain had a choice:

He could pursue the truth and let the investigation go where it went regardless of who it exposed


He could use the investigation to shape a narrative, create a "myth" and a demonize the designated fall guy.

In the early days of the investigation it looked like McCain was going to take the first option. During a November 17, 2004 Hearing on the scandal, John McCain made a promise:

"I pledge, as a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs, that we will not stop until the complete truth is told."

It was a promise—like all John McCain promises—that McCain quickly broke. Before the same hearing was over, it was clear that McCain had chosen the latter course.

He chose to embrace the narrative suggested by the first news story and shaped the facts to support it. The focus of his investigation cover-up became a story of gullible Indians, greedy lobbyists and the straight talking Senators who take them on.

In McCain’s version of the Abramoff story, Jack was an aberration—a "bad apple" if you will—in the otherwise smoothly running Republican system of a constant revolving door between lobbyists, government and think tanks.

And in the simple narrative McCain created, the Tribes were greedy Indians who got what they deserved. There were no victims in McCain’s narrative. He distilled the Abramoff scandal to an "Oceans 11" caper film where the lovable Republican scamps are just stealing money from yet another casino—a casino run by greedy and gullible Indians.

McCain tapped into the ongoing easy racism towards Native Americans that most Americans are way too comfortable embracing (for example: think of that football team in DC, that baseball team in Cleveland and common expressions like "going off the reservation" to describe "crazy" behavior—but I digress).

McCain slow walked his investigation to successfully protect Bush in 2004 and limit the damage done in 2006. In 2005 he promised the Republican Caucus that he would not investigate them and he kept that promise. He made his self-directed impotence and casual regard for justice clear in a December 2005 interview with Terry Gross on NPR (emphasis added):

Sen. McCAIN: We're going to write a report, and there may be additional information we may have to look at, but we've pretty well wrapped it up. There were four major tribes that Abramoff and Scanlon ripped off for a total around $88 million. But when you look at other aspects, like telling them to make certain contribution, it gets much higher than that. The Indian Affairs Committee is that; we're supposed to oversight Native Americans. And we were told of this--this whole thing started by being told of a couple of disgruntled tribal council members in this small tribe in Louisiana, and it blossomed into something far--a thousand times greater than I ever thought that it would.

And so we've pretty well wrapped our side of the investigation. We'll be making legislative recommendations and other things. But it's not the job of the Indian Affairs Committee to investigate members of Congress. That's the Ethics Committee and other committees to do that.

By the end of 2005 it was clear that McCain was running a cover-up designed more to protect the corruption of his Party than to get to the truth. By December 2005 it was clear that McCain lied in 2004 when he said:

"I pledge, as a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs, that we will not stop until the complete truth is told."

McCain made clear that he was lying in a December 4, 2005 appearance on Meet the Press (emphasis added):

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to corruption, and here's a headline from the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Lobbyist Jack Abramoff helped fuel conservative successes, but his dealings could lead to a powerful ethical fallout ... Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed, antitax guru Grover Norquist, members of Congress, administration officials, and a host of lobbyists have been drawn into Senate or Justice Department investigations of Abramoff's lobbying activities. ... The Abramoff story `is breathtaking in its reach,' [John] McCain said."

Do you expect indictments?

SEN. McCAIN: Oh, sure. And lots of them. This is--this town has become very corrupt. There's no doubt about it. And we need lobbying reform. We need to have some reform of lobbying. But the system here, where so much is done in the way of policy and money, in appropriations bills where line items are put in in secret, which nobody knows about or sees until after they're voted on, is the problem. That's the problem today. So therefore, someone who wants some money or a policy change hires a lobbyist who is well connected. They go to the appropriate subcommittee or committee, appropriations, and they write in the line item. That part has to be fixed, I think, as much as anything else.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you said you're going to follow the money, but are you also going to investigate which legislators may have taken money and used that to influence legislation, to write into law what you're suggesting...

SEN. McCAIN: Tim...

MR. RUSSERT:...the behavior of senators, your colleagues? Are you going to investigate them?

SEN. McCAIN: The--I will not, because I'm a chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. This was brought to our--this whole thing started--was brought to us--attention by some disgruntled tribal council members in a small tribe in Louisiana, and we took it as far as we thought was our responsibility, which is where the money ends up. I'm not as--we are responsible for Indian affairs. We have an Ethics Committee. We have a government--we have other committees of Congress, but we also have a very active media. And believe me...

MR. RUSSERT: Does the Ethics Committee work?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't think...

MR. RUSSERT: In all honesty?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't think the ethics committees are working very well. The latest Cunningham scandal was uncovered by the San Diego newspaper, not by anyone here...

MR. RUSSERT: Duke Cunningham, the congressman from California.

SEN. McCAIN:...in Washington.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that some legislators have committed a crime?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I don't want to--everyone deserves the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I'm not a judge and jury.

MR. RUSSERT: But there's strong evidence to suggest that.

SEN. McCAIN: There's strong evidence that there was significant wrongdoing, but I'm not a judge or jury.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think some legislators may be indicted?

SEN. McCAIN: All I know is what I read in the media. We stopped in the Indian Affairs Committee with where the money went, and that was our--the extent of our responsibilities.

That last statement of McCain’s is amazing. If McCain’s responsibility was to "follow the money" how did he miss the earmarks mentioned in the John Albaugh plea?

His interviews with Gross and Russert shared a common evasive stance when it comes to discussing the Abramoff investigation. It is clear that McCain wanted to get off the subject and that he had no intention of completing the investigation that he started. A report finally came out in June 2006. It left more question on the table than it answered.

And yet, McCain now points to his investigation cover-up of Abramoff as proof of his qualifications to be President. A serious look into McCain’s work on the Abramoff Scandal would disqualify him.

The Albaugh plea calls into question a central finding of McCain’s Final Report that the only problem was a few bad apples. The truth was that Jack Abramoff was part of a corrupt system of lobbying that is destroying our government. Jack Abramoff was not an aberration, he was normal in the Washington created by the Republican Party.

The lobbying system Abramoff worked in was created by a lobbyist named Charlie Black. And Black is now running McCain’s campaign.

McCain limited the Abramoff scandal to a very, very narrow scope. He collected 750,000 pages of documents and selectively used them to justify a narrow investigation.

Had he released these documents to the public, Abramoff’s easy access to Republican lawmakers and earmarks would have been exposed in 2006 or even 2004. The Albaugh plea proves McCain had evidence of crimes that he hid.

This should get some attention (IMHO) and John McCain should be forced to explain himself and why he placed artificial limits on his Abramoff investigation.

The 742,000 pages of documents being suppressed by John McCain should be released.

And John McCain needs to be defeated in November.

He is liar and a disgrace (and that is yet another reason why a McCain Presidency would be Bush’s third term).

We have a Country to take back.

2008 is now.

Time to get to work.


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