Snake Eyes for 'Casino Jack'
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff was the toast of the town. Now he's persona non grata. It's a Washington story
Once the toast of Washington's K Street lobbying corridor, Abramoff, who charged clients up to $750 an hour, is keeping a low profile. Greenberg Traurig LLP, the law firm and lobbying outfit where he was once a major rainmaker, has given Abramoff the bum's rush. Old friends have stopped hanging out at the restaurant he owned, Signatures. It was sold earlier this summer. The meter for his own legal bills is now spinning dizzily.
Tee times. It is difficult to chart the scope of political scandals with any exactitude, but every few years a real doozy blows through the concrete canyons of the nation's capital, trailing a long, comet's tail of dirty money, backroom deals, and expensive tee times. The Abramoff saga seems to touch all the bases. "What sets this tale apart, what makes it truly extraordinary is the extent and degree of the apparent exploitation," said Arizona Sen. John McCain, who now chairs the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is also investigating Abramoff's lobbying efforts.
The jury is still out on that. But some Democrats are elated by the fact that DeLay has been drawn into the Abramoff inquiry. "One of my closest and dearest friends," DeLay once said of Abramoff. The two men enjoyed lavish overseas trips together and played some memorable golf at historic links like Scotland's St. Andrews. The trips, too, are being examined by federal and congressional investigators.
Abramoff's difficulties represent a radical departure from what had been a charmed life. Born in Atlantic City, to Democratic parents (they would be persuaded later in life to switch to the GOP by golfing great Arnold Palmer, who employed Abramoff's father), young Jack moved with his family to Beverly Hills, Calif., when he was 10. At 12, Abramoff decided to embrace the strictures of Orthodox Jewish tradition. He was mostly a jock at Beverly Hills High, lifting weights, running track, and playing varsity football, but he was hardly a big man on campus. He moved back east to attend college at Brandeis University, where he became a campus conservative. After graduation, he moved to Washington and later studied law at Georgetown University, but he also continued his political education, winning election as chair of the College Republican National Committee with the help and advice of some future Republican stars. Grover Norquist, the influential antitax crusader, was Abramoff's campaign manager and first executive director of the CRNC. Reed, who was later founding executive director of the Christian Coalition, was a CRNC intern and was later hired by Abramoff to be the group's executive director. Reed even slept on Abramoff's couch. One of Abramoff's predecessors as chairman of the organization was Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist. A woman named Susan Ralston, who once worked for Abramoff, spent time at the White House as Rove's executive assistant.
In the Reagan years, Abramoff worked with a variety of conservative organizations, including taking a turn as executive director of Citizens for America, a lobbying outfit. He stayed in Washington but took a brief break from politics in the late 1980s to write and produce movies, most notably Red Scorpion, a forgettable $17 million thriller starring Dolph Lundgren.