Disgraced Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is out of prison and now talking up a book he’s written about the kind of Washington corruption that landed him there.
As he looks at the GOP field for 2012, there’s one storyline that’s drawn his notice – if only because it seems familiar.
Abramoff told us on ABC’s “Top Line” today that Newt Gingrich’s lucrative career as a consultant and adviser to private-sector clients is an example of a former member of Congress taking advantage of the “revolving door.”
While Gingrich may not have technically lobbied members of Congress, “Lobbying is not just meeting with people on the Hill,” Abramoff said. “Lobbying is a package, and part of the package is strategic advice — companies need to know what to do and which direction to go in.”
“And I think that those who come off the Hill and take advantage of the revolving door and cash in to give strategic advice is the same sort of area that I’ve talked about,” he said. “It’s a problem.”
Abramoff dismissed Gingrich’s explanation that he was offering Freddie Mac “history lessons” when he collected nearly $2 million from the mortgage giant.
“Apparently it was also for a history lesson — a very expensive history lesson,” he said. “Nevertheless, it’s cashing in on public service and it’s the kind of thing that I write about and think has got to be addressed.”
The fraud and conspiracy charges that landed Abramoff in prison for nearly six years sparked a raft of reforms aimed at curbing the influence of lobbyists who typically operate in the shadows.
But Abramoff said nothing has really changed: “In terms of the actual corruption stuff, no, it’s not better it all. … They rearrange the chairs on the deck but the ship doesn’t change course.”
Asked if he could again perpetuate the kind of scheme that got him in trouble, Abramoff was unequivocal:
“Absolutely. I think what I was doing, people are still doing,” he said. “The problem isn’t the people breaking the law — the problem is the people keeping the law. What’s legal up there is the problem, the way they set the lines is the problem and that’s what really has to be addressed.”
Even now, Abramoff insists that the Indian tribes he charged some $80 million to in lobbying fees more than got their money’s worth.
“What I pled to was not informing my tribal clients and other clients that I was sharing in profit of companies that work for them,” he said. “I billed the tribes probably — or my firm did, my firms did, probably north of $80 million. We calculated that the benefit that we brought to them was in the range of $6 billion, so I don’t think that … I never pled to ripping off the Indian tribes.”
“No, I think they benefitted immensely from my services,” he added. “Unlike most lobbyists I never had a contract with my clients of a year or two years. My deal was if you don’t like me, fire me that afternoon. And they never did.”
Abramoff also spoke about the oddity of having a Hollywood movie – “Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey – appear about you while he was in prison. He didn’t see the film until after he was released from prison, though he said he offered feedback on the script when Spacey visited him behind bars.
“Kevin Spacey is my favorite actor so it was kind of ironic that he wanted to play me and I wound up meeting him,” he said. “I thought the script was very weak… I think he did make some changes, but I thought structurally the script was very weak. The three acts weren’t pronounced, there was no character growth, there were all sorts of movie problems in the script. Of course I was the villain in the script but I didn’t frankly care about that.”
Abramoff added: “I knew they weren’t going to make me a hero but I told them look make me an interesting villain at least. Make me Gordon Gekko, make me Hannibal Lecter, make me somebody people want to be in a room with for two hours. I said I don’t want to be in a room with this guy for two hours and it’s me. So I think that it needs a little work.”
And to celebrate my 35th birthday – which, of course, makes me old enough to run for president – Abramoff offered his support to my presidential candidacy.
“I’d like to be the first one to endorse him — thereby killing his candidacy,” Abramoff said.