Sunday, May 01, 2005

Abramoff Breaks Silence About Investigations
Abramoff Breaks Silence About Investigations

By David Finkel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 1, 2005; A07

Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist who is under federal investigation for his lobbying activities on behalf of Indian tribes and is a central figure in separate probes into alleged ethical improprieties by his close friend House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), has begun publicly defending himself after months of silence.

In an interview with Time magazine, portions of which have been posted on the magazine's Web site in advance of tomorrow's publication date, Abramoff said the tribes that hired him for help with casino licensing applications and paid him tens of millions of dollars got their money's worth.

"The return on investment for these tribes, and all my clients, is far better than anything they or we could have imagined," Abramoff said. ". . . They realize that spending millions to save billions is just good business."

Abramoff called his Indian clients "sophisticated business people" in the interview, which is in stark contrast to terms he used in private e-mails, first disclosed in The Washington Post in its ongoing examination of Abramoff, in which he called them "stupid" and "moronic." In other e-mails, released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, he referred to them as "idiots," "troglodytes" and "monkeys."

"I regret that in the heat of the locker room atmosphere of the lobbying world, I sometimes, rarely -- but sometimes -- I resorted to language more common to a drill sergeant or a football coach," Abramoff told Time. "Many of my e-mails have been maliciously taken out of context, another effort by those assaulting my career. As a result, I've been portrayed as a cynical barbarian preying on the very clients I was charged to defend."

Abramoff is being investigated in connection with allegations of kickbacks and influence peddling by the Interior and Justice departments and by two Senate committees.

In another article, published in today's New York Times Magazine, Abramoff called himself "an aggressive advocate for people who engaged me," and said, "I did this within a philosophical framework, and a moral and legal framework. And I have been turned into a cartoon of the greatest villain in the history of lobbying."

The Times article goes on to characterize Abramoff's life as "in shambles." A Washington delicatessen he opened in 2002 has closed. A private religious school he founded in 2001 in Columbia also has closed, and some of its teachers are suing him for unpaid wages. He also is being sued by a Louisiana tribe he represented, which seeks the return of $32 million it paid Abramoff and a business partner, public relations consultant Michael Scanlon.

DeLay was the one topic Abramoff would not talk about in any detail. Asked by the Times about his relationship with the man who once referred to Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends," Abramoff answered by talking in general terms about the life of a Washington lobbyist. "There are probably two dozen events and fund-raisers every night," he said. "Lobbyists go on trips with members of Congress, socialize with members of Congress -- all with the purpose of increasing one's access to the decision makers.

"That is not unusual," he continued. "They've been made to seem unusual with me. Perhaps because they haven't pulled e-mails to see the various fund-raisers and golfing outings that [other lobbyists] have been engaged in."