ABRAMOFF: 'I WAS A KILLER'
Wed Mar 08 2006 10:36:14 ET
"You're really no one in this town unless you haven't met me," Jack Abramoff tells Vanity Fair contributing editor David Margolick. Such lies are not just lies, but dumb to boot-"This is not an age when you can run away from facts. I had to deal with my records, and others will have to deal with theirs."
An insider tells Margolick that Abramoff blames competing Republican lobbyists and Arizona Senator John McCain-with whom Abramoff says he's had a contentious relationship-for his downfall. Abramoff tells Margolick that McCain staffers deliberately humiliated him, doling out embarrassing e-mails to the press.
"Mr. Abramoff flatters himself," Mark Salter, McCain's administrative assistant, tells Margolick. "Senator McCain was unaware of his existence until he read initial press accounts of Abramoff's abuses, and had never laid eyes on him until he appeared before the committee."
Abramoff says, "As best I can remember, when I met with him, he didn't have his eyes shut. I'm surprised that Senator McCain has joined the chorus of amnesiacs."
Abramoff is well aware of his peril: "In a different era I'd be killed on the street or have poison poured into my coffee," he tells Margolick.
Abramoff embarrassingly admits to gaining 50 pounds due to stress and tells Margolick that sending him to prison is "stupid," saying, "Let me teach English, history, music. Or let me sweep floors at the reservation. Instead you'll be paying to feed me to sit in a jail."
"I was a killer. I killed for my clients, and it eventually killed me," Abramoff tells Margolick. "Or I eventually killed me. And there were a lot of other hands on the knife."
"My so-called relationship with Bush, Rove, and everyone else at the White House has only become important because, instead of just releasing details about the very few times I was there, they created a feeding frenzy by their deafening silence. The Democrats are going overboard, virtually insisting I was there to plan the invasion of Iraq. This is why this non-story grabbed headlines for weeks."
Abramoff discusses his relationship with:
President Bush, who claims not to remember having his picture taken with Abramoff. According to Abramoff, at one time, the president joked with Abramoff about his weight lifting past: "What are you benching, buff guy?"
Tom DeLay, who once referred to Abramoff as one of his closest friends. Abramoff explains his working relationship with DeLay, saying, "I didn't spend a lot of time lobbying Tom for things, because the things I worked on were usually consistent with the conservative philosophy." Abramoff has "admired Tom DeLay and his family from the first meeting with him," he tells Margolick. "We would sit and talk about the Bible. We would sit and talk about opera. We would sit and talk about golf," Abramoff recalls. "I mean, we talked about philosophy and politics."
Ken Mehlman, who recently claimed he didn't really know Abramoff. According to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged e-mail with Abramoff, and did him political favors (such as preventing Clinton administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job), had Sabbath dinner at Abramoff's house, and offered to pick up Abramoff's tab at Signatures, Abramoff's own restaurant.
Newt Gingrich, whose spokesman Rick Tyler tells Margolick that "Before [Abramoff's] picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn't have known him if he fell across him. He hadn't seen him in 10 years." A rankled Abramoff says "I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife." Abramoff shows Margolick numerous photographs: "Here's Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt. More Newt. Newt with Grover [Norquist, the Washington conservative Republican Über-strategist and longtime Abramoff friend] this time. But Newt never met me. Ollie North. Newt. Can't be Newt ... he never met me. Oh, Newt! What's he doing there? Must be a Newt look-alike.... Newt again! It's sick! I thought he never met me!"
Senator Conrad Burns, of Montana, who was one of the largest single recipients of Abramoff loot, has blanketed the airwaves calling Abramoff a liar, claiming that he never influenced the senator. Abramoff says: "Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns's committee] we got. Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used Signatures as their cafeteria. I mean, it's a little difficult for him to run from that record."
Ronald Reagan, whom he met as a College Republican. "It was like meeting the king," Abramoff tells Margolick.
ABRAMOFF ON HIS CRIMES:
"I was moving a mile a minute and didn't conceive that I could be doing something wrong, and as I got near to the edge I either concealed it or I convinced myself that I wasn't having a problem. I was basically so busy winning that I didn't see what I was doing. They say, 'Stop and smell the roses'? I didn't stop and smell the dung heap. Unfortunately, now I'm paying for it dearly."
ABRAMOFF ON THE WAY HE DID BUSINESS:
"Most lobbyists meet with a committee chairman, staff, a few members. We'd meet with the whole leadership of the House and Senate, the entire committee on both sides, then create a roster of who might ideologically support the idea and get them in the war.... We'd get people firing constantly on the decision-makers. And we'd outwork everyone in the media.... Most Washington lobbyists are lazy, people of limits, people who move glacially slow. I felt my job was to go out there and save the world.... I thought it was immoral to take someone's money and not win for them. And we basically didn't lose."
ABRAMOFF ON WHETHER OR NOT HE HARMED THE COUNTRY:
"There were times when I helped the country and the causes that I love and obviously times when I hurt them. The exposure of my lobbying practice, the absurd amount of media coverage, and the focus-for the first time-on this sausage-making factory that we call Washington will ultimately help reformthe system, or at least so I hope. The only thing that a clever lobbyist cannot manipulate is the absence of something to lobby for or fight against."
ABRAMOFF ON THE INDIAN COUNTRY:
"The entire Indian country has come together in a big kumbaya of hatred for me. It just tears at my soul."