Sunday, November 20, 2005

Huge Break in Abramoff Corruption Case. Scanlon Flips!

The Washington Post reports that Jack Abramoff's partner in crime, Michael Scanlon, is going to plead guilty on Monday to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and bribe government officials, including at least one member of Congress.

The victims of the fraud to which Scanlon will plead guilty to conspiring to commit include the Coushatta Indian Tribe of Louisiana.

This is a huge break in this case as Scanlon worked tightly with Abramoff on the schemes to scam the Indian tribes out of about $80 million and then use that money as a political slush fund used to influence politicians and policy makers in Washington.

Scanlon is a former staffer of Congressman Tom DeLay, former House Majority Leader and a prominent funder of Congressman Charles Boustany's 2004 campaign.

Scanlon's importance to the case cannot be overstated. Here are a few relevant paragraphs from the Washington Post story:
Scanlon could help investigators learn more about the purpose of gifts and nearly $3 million in campaign contributions Abramoff and his tribal clients lavished on members of Congress and their staffers, who night after night filled the lobbyist's four sports skyboxes. Scanlon may also be able to elaborate on e-mails that have been made public by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, in which Abramoff discussed job offers to public officials and his efforts to get political appointees at the Interior Department to intercede on issues affecting clients.

Scanlon may also be knowledgeable about Abramoff's direction of tribal funds to several charitable foundations and advocacy groups and tax-exempt organizations, including one run by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. E-mail shows that Scanlon was intimately familiar with some of the financial dealings of anti-gambling activist Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Reed, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, has acknowledged receiving $4 million in dealings with Abramoff to whip up anti-casino campaigns in the South, but has maintained he did not know the funds came from the gaming proceeds of tribes that wanted to scuttle competition.

E-mails and other documents obtained by The Washington Post, and some released by the Indian Affairs Committee, show that Reed was routinely paid with tribal funds that were sent to Scanlon's firm, then routed to an Abramoff company called KayGold, and then sent to one of Reed's Atlanta-based political consulting firms.

Scanlon's e-mails and memos often reveal an aggressive, take-no-prisoners style. In a 2001 memo to a representative of the Louisiana Coushatta tribe, Scanlon said his political program was "designed to make the Coushatta Tribe a politician's best friend -- or worst political nightmare."
While the focus of the case is on activities around the money taken from the Indian tribes, it has tentacles that extend broadly across Washington and Republican politics. Abramoff and Norquist worked very closely with DeLay and with Karl Rove. The case has already reached into the White House with the indictment last month of David Safavian.

The New York Times story on the scandal quotes long-time Congress watcher Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution:
"I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century. I've been around Washington for 35 years, watching Congress, and I've never seen anything approaching Abramoff for cynicism and chutzpah in proposing quid pro quos to members of Congress."
The significance of this corruption scandal is not limited to the individuals involved. It is important to recall that the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 1994 largely by running against what they called the entrenched corruption of the Democratic Party which had held majority power in the House since the 1950s.

As the charges against Abramoff and Scanlon detail, in one short decade the corruption unleashed by the Republicans makes the corruption of the Democrats look quite pedestrian.

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