Host: Terry Gross
Guest: Philip Shenon of the New York Times
Terry Gross: We admit it. We've been having trouble keeping up with Washington influence peddling scandal. The ongoing investigation into the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, is heading in so many directions and involving so many other people, it's hard to keep track. But this story is fascinating on a purely dramatic level, and more important, it reveals some of the seamier side of today's politics. We asked Philip Shenon to map out the story of the Abramoff scandals and investigations. Shenon is an investigative reporter for the New York Times. He's been covering the Abramoff-Scanlon story and the investigation into former House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay. Scanlon is a former aide to DeLay.
Philip Shenon: before we get into all, or at least some!, of the details of these various lobbying investigations, why is this larger story important? It takes some effort to follow these stories. Why is it worth it? Philip Shenon: It's worth it because it's been a concern for a very long time that money buys too much access in Washington, that lobbyists have too much power, that the revolving door between Capital Hill and the lobbying community is spinning much too fast and involves much too much money. And there are many peope who would tell you that the saga of Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon tells you that things are out of control, that money is having too much influence on public policy, that members of Congress are offering themselves up to do favors for lobbyists in exchange for gifts, and that they will constitute bribery. Something needs to be done. And people are talking seriously now about new legislation that will place much tighter restrictions on what lobbyists can do and what Congressmen and other public officials can accept.
TG: Last week there was what appears to be a very big breakthrough in the investigation into the Abramoff-Scanlon story. Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe public officials and defraud his Indian tribal clients. And he said that he would cooperate with the investigators. Exactly what did he plead guilty to doing?
PS: He pleaded guilty to a conspiracy with someone identified as "Lobbyist A." "Lobbyist A" we now know is Jack Abramoff. To bribe members of Congress. To giving them lots of gifts, jetting them around the world on exotic travel, sending campaign contributions into their campaign offices, in exchange for specific acts on Capital Hill. That's something much more than a gift. That is bribery.
TG: Before we get any deeper into what Michael Scanlon did, let's talk briefly about who he is and how connected he is in Washington. How connected is he? What is his place in the power structure?
PS: He's not a particularly well-known figure. He just happened to be well-known to a handful of folks who were in power on Capitol Hill. He's a young man. He's in his thirties. He's a Republican operative with some history here. He worked as a press secretary to Tom DeLay for a period of time. He was quite close to DeLay. He left that position several years go and decided to enter the world of lobbying and public relations where he hooked up with Jack Abramoff who's really the focus of all these investigations.
TG: And Scanlon is a very wealthy man.
PS: He's apparently fabulously wealthy. In fact, he was required under this plea agreement to give up $19M, but it's not at all clear that that will leave him broke at the end of this.
TG: So he's promised to cooperate with prosecutors. And the Washington Post in an editorial said that he may now be the most dangerous man in Washington! What makes him so dangerous?
PS: Well, he knows the inner workings of the Abramoff lobbying operation. He may well be able to finger individual congressmen for having taken gifts in return for specific acts. He may be able to identify members of Congress who were bribed.
TG: Let's get to Jack Abramoff. What's his position in Washington?
PS: Jack Abramoff is likely to be remembered as the man behind the biggest influence-peddling scandal that Washington has seen in a generation. You may have to go back even further than that to find a good comparison. He was the lobbyist's lobbyist. He knew where the levers of power were on Capitol Hill and the Executive branch. He knew how to pull 'em. He got what he wanted on Capitol Hill and elsewhere largely by wining and dining members of Congress and by jetting them all around the world on these lavish trips -- nominally for business. In exchange for that Abramoff got these jaw-dropping lobbying fees. We know that he and Scanlon, his junior partner, got something more than $80M during a three-year period, 2001-2004, from just a handful of Indian tribes and their gambling operations. If you want to know about this unseemly, unholy alliance between money and politics, Jack Abramoff is likely to be a poster-boy for that.
TG: Let's talk a little about this relationship they had with Indian tribes who owned -- or wanted to own -- gambling casinos. What was the arrangement Abramoff had with these Indian tribes?
PS: Abramoff, in the mid-1990's, saw a real opportunity to start representing the interests of Indian tribes and their casinos around the country. Because they are just money machines, producing billions of dollars in revenue a year. He would pitch himself to Indian tribes as the man who could make things happen in Washington -- or elsewhere in state capitols or wherever the Indian tribes needed friends. Often the lobbying efforts Abramoff oversaw were efforts to prevent a rival casino from opening as opposed to getting a particular casino open. And he worked out a fee arrangement in which he would take some portion of the money, but the bulk of it would to to what was described as "a public relations operation" run by Michael Scanlon. The $80M that Abramoff and Scanlon took in in lobbying fees -- most of that money, $60M of it, went to Scanlon. And the reason for that, I think people suspect, was because lobbying has to be declared in the financial records of the federal government. Public relations doesn't have to be declared. It can be done off the books essentially.
TG: So Scanlon was officially running a public relations organization as opposed to a lobbying organization?
TG: You had said that part of the problem with this casino scheme was that the Indian tribes weren't getting what they paid for. But on the other hand, it sounds like Abramoff and Scanlon got lawmakers -- Congressmen -- to do favors for the tribes in return for free travel or payments to their campaigns. So in that sense it sounds like the tribes got something...
PS:... What they paid for. No, I think we can draw the distinction that in some cases, certainly early on in Abramoff's career, the Indian tribes did get what they wanted. In fact my own newspaper did a story back in 2002 -- on the front page -- about this incredible lobbyist named Jack Abramoff who was reaping these extraordinary lobbying fees from Indian tribes. The story quoted many of the Indian tribe leaders as saying whata terrific lobbyist Jack Abramoff was and how he was able to get for them exactly what they wanted. I think more recently the allegation is made that Abramoff and Scanlon, yes, on occasion, could get things done, could get access to members of Congress, but in the end simply pocketed most of the fees they were given.
TG: So who is now investigating this Indian casino operation that Scanlon and Abramoff ran?
PS: Well, the principle investigation and the one that's caused so much alarm on Capitol Hill is one that is being overseen by the Justice Department. It also involves the Treasury Department, the IRS, the Interior Department, and a task force that includes a host of other federal agencies. They've been running a grand jury in Washington for something more than a year and a half. That's the grand jury whose investigation resulted in the plea bargain with Scanlon last week. There are other investigations. There's been an investigation on Capital Hill run by Senator McCain of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that has brought to light some of the worst abuses that have been associated with Abramoff and Scanlon in a series of high profile hearings over the past year. And there are rumblings about other sorts of investigations being overseen by state prosecutors around the country.
TG: One person under scrutiny now in this larger investigation of conspiracy to defraud Indian casinos is Ralph Reed. Before we get specifically to what he's being scrutinized for, he's had a long relationship with Jack Abramoff. How far do they go back?
PS: Oh, they go back to the early 1980's. Abramoff made his name early on in the Republican Party when he was chairman of the College Republicans which he made into a pretty potent force during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Among the people with whom he worked most closely was a young man out of Georgia named Ralph Reed. The two men struck up an easy friendship. Reed apparently used to sleep on Abramoff's couch in Washington. Reed introduced Abramoff to the woman who would later become his wife. The two men have been very close friends for many years. After Reed left the Christian Coalition, he went back to Georgia and opened up a lobbying shop and started doing business with Abramoff's lobbying shop. Abramoff's interest was in protecting the interests of his Indian tribe clients and their casino operations and Reed was involved because he was part of the grass roots campaign that would protect the interests of some of those Indian tribes. In other words, if a tribe wanted to prevent a rival tribe from opening a casino, Abramoff would work with Reed to organize what was described as a grass roots operation to block all new casinos in that state or that region. Reed obviously is a man who proclaims his opposition to gambling and insists that he had no real understanding that the money flowing to him from Abramoff was coming from Indian tribe gambling operations. But some critics of Reed find that a little bit hard to believe given his long ties to Abramoff and the fact that Abramoff was known in Washington as "Casino Jack" because most of his business was with Indian tribes and their casinos.
TG: Did critics who are saying that money from the casinos was indirectly funneled to Ralph Reed use this an example: that Jack Abramoff used the group, Americans for Tax Reform as a conduit to send money from the Mississippi Choctaws, one of Abramoff's clients, to the Alabama Christian Coalition. Now was Ralph Reed tied in with the Alabama Christian Coalition as one of the ways he might have indirectly received money?
PS: That was one of the groups that was working closely with Reed to organize these grass-roots operations to block new casinos from opening. So Reed would benefit from the money given to a third party -- it's a confusing money trail -- but the money would go from Abramoff's operation to Americans for Tax Reform or another group and somehow this money would get, indirectly, to Ralph Reed. Or so it's alleged.
TG: And this introduces another character into the story, Grover Norquist, who's the head of Americans for Tax Reform. Americans for Tax Reform is a group which is staunchly against taxes. Just about any tax you can name they would oppose. Grover Norquist is very connected in Washington, way beyond just the issue of taxes. Where does he fit in to larger Washington politics?
PS: Well, among the Movement Conservatives, there are few people who are more influential and have more friends than Grover Norquist. Americans for Tax Reform is one of the principal private groups in Washington pushing the conservative agenda, largely focusing on smaller and smaller federal governments.
TG: And how does Grover Norquist know Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. Do they go back?
PS: They go back, again, to the early 1980's and the College Republicans. Abramoff is chairman. Norquist is a leader as well. Ralph Reed arrives at College Republicans as, essentially, an intern. And the three men forged a very close friendship that lasts to this day as best we can tell.
TG: So where does Grover Norquist fit into the investigation? What activities of his are being scrutinized?
PS: Well, I think the concern is that if there is something improper about the way Abramoff was underwriting these anti-gambling crusades in some Southern states and in Texas, I think the concern is that if there's anything illegal about that, the fact that if Mr. Norquist was used as a conduit for those funds, that could bring him under scrutiny. Senator McCain, who has a long, antagonistic history with Mr. Norquist, has attempted to get Mr. Norquist's tax records and has suggested that is worthy of further scrutiny by the Justice Department.
TG: And Grover Norquist is expressing his outrage.
PS: Oh, absolutely! I don't think we have any strong sense that Mr. Norquist is personally under scrutiny here. At this point, I don't think we know that about Mr. Reed either.
TG: So they're not necessarily being investigated. They're just characters who are now -- what? -- on the periphery of the story?
PS: That's a distinction... All of these people are under scrutiny to the extent that the Justice Department has a vast, vast record of documentation from Abramoff's office showing his connections with Reed, with Norquist, with others who are at least indirectly connected to what the Justice Department now describes as this effort to defraud the Indian tribes and to corrupt public officials. So I guess that means they're all under scrutiny.
TG: There's another issue related to this that Grover Norquist is involved in, and that's the group CREA, the Council for Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group he cofounded with Gale Norton, the Secretary of the Interior. What is being questioned about this group?
PS: The question is whether or not Abramoff used this small Republican group to get decisions made at the Interior Department on behalf of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients. And this was the focus of the final hearings of Senator McCain's committee several week ago, the question being whether Abramoff would use this group known as CREA, led by a woman call Italia Federici, who at one point was quite close to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, to lobby the Interior Department to get things done for Abramoff's Indian tribe clients. The Interior Department has a lot of oversight over Indian tribe reservations. There's a lot of email showing that Abramoff would call this group, CREA, and that CREA would then call into the Interior Department and try to get things done largely through the offices of the Deputy Secretary of Interior, Stephen Griles.
TG: So this means that there are members of the Interior Department, including the head of it, Gale Norton, who might at some point be under scrutiny.
PS: I think Senator McCain's staff has been very clear, and Senator McCain himself has been very clear that Ms. Norton is not herself under scrutiny. I think a lot of questions have been raised, however, about the actions of her deputy, Stephen Griles, a former lobbyist himself and now a lobbyist again. And there were a lot of concerns expressed about Mr. Griles and his testimony when he appeared before Senator McCain's committee a few weeks ago. He suggested that he treated Jack Abramoff as he treated all lobbyists -- no special favors for him. He couldn't recall direct communications with Abramoff, but in fact the email traffic from Abramoff's shop shows that there was a lot of contact with CREA with Griles suggesting there was a much closer relationship. In fact it became known at this hearing that Abramoff had offered Griles a job in his lobbying shop while Griles was still at the Interior Department. TG: Let's get into another chapter in the investigation into Jack Abramoff. That's a business deal he entered into with Adam Kidan. They bought Sun Cruise which was a fleet of casino boats and they're charged with conspiracy and wire fraud in the purchase of these boats. The trial's scheduled for January. What's this story about?
PS: [laughs] Oh, my goodness! The saga of Jack Abramoff! It goes everywhere! This doesn't directly relate to the influence-peddling scandals in Washington, but Abramoff, ever the wheeler-dealer, decided to get into the casino gambling business back in 2000 and the Sun Cruise gambling ship fleet became available, and he and a business partner, Adam Kidan, sought to purchase it. According to the Justice Department, they dummied up a bunch of papers that made financing of the purchase possible. That's why they've now been indicted for fraud down in Florida. Again, that does not relate to what's going on in Washington, although I suspect the Justice Department may well try to use the indictment down there as leverage to get Abramoff's cooperation up here.
TG: Part of the intrigue around this particular case is that Constantino Boulis, one of the business partners that they bought this fleet of gambling boats from, was murdered gangland-style...
PS: February, 2001. Sure enough. His car is pulled over and he is gunned down. More recently three men have been charged with involvement in that murder and they appear to be tied, at least indirectly, to Mr. Kidan, Mr. Abramoff's business partner.
TG: So Kidan may be implicated in a murder?
PS: I don't think anybody has made that statement. There certainly are questions that have been raised. We do know that after the sale went through there was very bad blood between Mr. Boulis and Mr. Kidan and Mr. Abramoff. Shortly thereafter, for reasons we don't understand at this point, Mr. Boulis was gunned down.
TG: Where does Congressman Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, fit into this story of the purchase of the Sun Cruise gambling boats?
PS: Well, he has lots of ties to Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon. In the Florida situation, Mr. Abramoff was able to use Congressman Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who is Chairman of the House Administration Committee, to place into the Congressional Record statements praising Mr. Kidan and other statements condemning Mr. Boulis. It doesn't appear that Mr. Ney had any real information about either of these two men. And yet he was quite willing to place in the official record of the House of Representatives these statements for Mr. Abramoff. The question is whether or not he did that in exchange for some gift or gifts Mr. Abramoff provided him.
TG: There's a very interesting background which goes beyond Washington politics. Why don't you give us a kind of sketch of Jack Abramoff?
PS: Abramoff was born in Atlantic City. He moves, as a boy, with his parents to Beverly Hills where his father worked for Arnold Palmer, the golfer. Abramoff becomes very conservative as a young man. He goes off to Brandeis for college. He becomes influential within the College Republican operation on the East Coast and eventually becomes chairman in the 1980's of the College Republicans. He makes these friendships with people like Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist that would pay benefits for decades to come. He goes from Washington to Hollywood in the mid-1980's where he decides he's going to follow his brother into the movie business. He makes an apparently very forgettable action movie in the late 1980's called "Red Scorpion," with Dolph Lundgren, the action hero. In 1994 Republicans take control of both houses of Congress for the first time in many, many years. Abramoff sees a new opportunity to cash in, if you will. He comes to Washington and he becomes a big-shot lobbyist. He certainly has the connections all over Washington to get things done for corporate clients. He becomes best known here early for very aggressive lobbying on behalf of a tiny chain of island in the western Pacific called the Northern Mariannas. The Northern Mariannas are American territory. But they are not required to abide by many federal labor laws, including the minimum wage law. So what emerged in the 1980's were small garment factories. Migrant workers were brought in from places like the Phillipines and China to make garments at much less than minimum wage, with none of the protections that workers in this country are entitled to, and in conditions which human rights groups describe as "sweatshops." They were able to make these clothes and label them "Made in the USA." And this becomes an opportunity for Abramoff to prove himself as a champion of the free market because the garment manufacturers hire him on to defend their interests and to argue that what is happening in the Northern Mariannas is a petrie dish of capitalism, a real opportunity to prove that markets work and that the federal government's taxation policies are unfair. Over the course of several years, Abramoff flies out to the middle of the Pacific many members of Congress, including Tom DeLay, offers to put them up at luxurious hotels. The beaches are lovely out there. It's a very nice part of the world in terms of physical appearance. They play golf. They have a great time. They see these garment factories and come back and defend the practices when they get to Washington. From there it was, philosophically, not much of a leap for Abramoff to defend the interests of Indian tribes and their sovereignty in running their casinos and their freedom from regulation by the federal government.
TG: Is there any implication that Abramoff did anything wrong with the Marianna Islands? Is what he did above-board?
PS: Well, I think human rights groups would tell you differently, but I don't think that's so much the focus of what the Justice Department has been up to. Abramoff did bring a lot of members out to the Mariannas to see what was going on, but there is, in fact, in Abramoff's old lobbying firm, documents showing that contacts were made with the House Ethics Committee to make sure that these trips were on the up-and-up. Much more of the attention of the Justice Department than the criminal investigators is on what Abramoff did on behalf of the Indian tribes.
TG: At the risk of confusing our audience even more -- it's so challenging to cover this story because there are so many different chapters and interconnections between people. Our goal here in this interview is to try to connect the dots and tell the story...
PS: I completely agree with you!
TG: But do you have a lot of trouble telling this story in your newspaper?
PS: I do. You're given 800 words and its hard to get all this in. I told my colleagues that if we could get Tom Wolfe to decamp from the upper East Side for a couple of weeks and come on down here.... This is sort of a "Bonfire of the Vanities" of Washington! You know, larger than life characters, lots of money, fancy meals, excess, excess, excess. It's a story that takes you all around the world with lots of exotic locations. You finish up in Margaret Thatcher's offices in London. You wind up in what are known as sweatshop factories on little tiny islands in the Pacific. It's got lots of color and it has tentacles everywhere and it's very difficult to compress into a daily newspaper story.
TG: Okay. You've spelled out for us some of the practices that are being investigated now by various groups surrounding Jack Abramoff the lobbyist and his associate Michael Scanlon. What do you think are some of the larger implications of these ongoing investigations?
PS: I think the largest implication is that you could see members of Congress and other federal officials face real problems with the Justice Department -- face criminal charges that they accepted bribes or other illegal gifts from Abramoff and Scanlon. There is a lot of fear on Capitol Hill as to where the Justice Department is going here and what else Michael Scanlon may know. And I think there certainly is the understanding that the Justice Department at some point might be willing to reach a deal with Abramoff in exchange for which Abramoff would identify particular public officials who broke the law.
TG: What is this story telling us about what lobbying is like in the US?
PS: I think there are people who would argue that this story is proof that things have spun out of control in terms of the influence of lobbyists and their money on the workings of the federal government. Your listeners may remember the last set of lobbying scandals in Washington --Abscam in the 1980's, Korea-gate in the 1970's -- in which members of Congress accepted gifts and bribes that caused some of them to go to prison. But if you look at the situation then, the amounts of money we're talking about were chump change compared with what we talking about with Abramoff and company. In Korea-gate in the 1970's, the lobbyists handed out envelopes filled with cash with 10 - $20,000. That's nothing compared to the amounts of money we're talking about with Abramoff, who would spend $100K for a single trip of a single Congressman to go golfing in Scotland as apparently happened here once.
TG: Is there an obvious line between what was legal and what was illegal in the activities that Abramoff is alleged with having conducted? I mean like paying for a $100K trip for a congressman. Is that clearly against the rules?
PS: Well, like everything else, it gets a little bit murky because what Abramoff would do in some of these cases, it appears at least, is that he would have money sent as donations to a particular charitable group and then that charitable group would sponsor the trip. Congressmen are allowed to accept trips from legitimate educational and and other sorts of groups. In the case of Congressman Bob Ney, who we were talking about earlier, who is pretty clearly referenced to in the indictment of Michael Scanlon, Abramoff arrange for a trip which Abramoff described as being a $100K trip to Scotland for Congressman Ney and a few others, including Ralph Reed, who we're also talking about. That was apparently paid for largely by a private charity that Abramoff controlled and to which the major contributors were some of his Indian tribe clients. So the Indian tribe clients sent money into the Capital Athletic Foundation, which is the charity, and this is the charity which then sponsors a trip for Congressman Ney and others.
TG: It looks like we're not going to have time to talk about the investigations into Tom DeLay. I think it's just too complicated to bring in even more investigations into the story! But how closely linked have Abramoff and Scanlon been to Tom DeLay, and how does the investigations into Scanlon and Abramoff affect the investigations into DeLay, if at all?
PS: DeLay's under indictment now in Texas on charges of violation of the state election laws. That's unrelated to what's happening in Washington. But Scanlon worked for DeLay for a period of a year or two. The two men were apparently reasonably close. Abramoff and DeLay were very close. At one point Tom DeLay publicly described Abramoff as among his closest and dearest friends. It's pretty clear from the record that Abramoff was the guy who organized a handful of extremely lavish overseas trips for Tom DeLay, trips that have attracted the attention of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate and of the Justice Department.
TG: What is your approach to covering this story? On the one hand you're obviously covering all the investigations, the hearings, and so on, but are you also investigating independently, trying to independently get access to documents or kind of go behind the scenes and break new parts of the story yourself?
PS: Oh, absolutely! I have trouble sleeping at night with the understanding that on Capitol Hill there are apparently hundreds of thousands of pages of Abramoff's emails documenting all sorts of things that I think we'd like to know about. And almost every day brings some new revelation about Abramoff and his lobbying. I think there was a story a couple of weeks ago that we had about how Abramoff had approached a small West African nation, Gabon, and asked for $9M for a lobbying campaign that would focus on getting a meeting for the president of Gabon with President Bush. We don't know in fact whether that money was ever paid or if there was ever a signed contract, but -- sure enough! -- ten months after Abramoff prepares the paperwork on this, who should appear in the Oval Office but the President of Gabon! It was a meeting with President Bush. And I think there's just an awful lot more about Abramoff we don't know. We may know more soon -- though this investigation seems to be taking its time.
TG: Did you break that part of the story about Gabon?
PS: Yes. There may be more coming on that front, on what other representation Abramoff had on behalf of small nations abroad.
TG: What can you tell us about how you break a story like that?
PS: Well, in that case, it was somebody presented us with these documents out of Abramoff's lobbying operation that showed this pretty brazen effort on Abramoff's part to get a big payday for largely arranging a single meeting at the White House.
TG: How does the fact that several journalists have been subpoenaed and asked to testify -- and in fact have testified -- for the Special Prosecutor in the investigation into Valerie Wilson? How has that affected your sources' willingness to speak with you, and are you concerned that you might be asked to testify in an investigation?
PS: I'm not -- I don't know if I face, in this case, that possibility. Actually at the moment, along with my former colleague, Judith Miller, there is an effort by the Justice Department to obtain some of my telephone records involving stories we did after September 11th. Apart from that, in this case, I don't... you know, I think there is a chilling effect on all of us at the moment. There's a lot of nervous conversatioon when you talk with folks about the Abramoff investigation or almost anything else going on in Washington these days with worry about what are the implications on the part of the source in talking to a reporter. You know, I'll go to prison if need be if it's in exchange for valuable information. But I think the person that might provide that valuable information to me is having second and third and fourth thoughts about presenting it to me.
TG: Right... There've been a lot of emails that have been used as evidence in this story. Some of them, I have to say, quite colorful and vivid in their language! Do you have any favorite quotes from the emails that have circulated as part of the story?
PS: Oh, if you ever had worries about your private email becoming public, Abramoff would have reason to worry even more. Because Abramoff clearly lived on email. Every thought he had was expressed in email, and some of those thoughts were pretty colorful, and some of them were pretty ugly. There have been emails that have come forward in which Abramoff and Scanlon describe their Indian tribe clients as troglodytes and monkeys and all sort of distasteful things. Just in terms of the brazenness of this operation, there's a lot of locker-room chit-chat. You know: "I want to get my mitts on their moulah... I want to fire up the jets, baby. We're going to El Paso to milk this deal..." I think this man put every thought onto a computer screen. And all of that is now available to investigators at the Justice Department, and a lot of it is available to the investigators in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee who've been looking at Abramoff for a long time. I think maybe one of the reasons we haven't seen a lot of that email is because it does involve serious allegations of illegal gifts given to public officials. The Justice Department doesn't want that out because it is now pursuing those public officials.
TG: Michael Scanlon, whom we talked about earlier, has a reputation as a pretty tough guy. He sent an email -- this was during the Clinton impeachment, right after Clinton testified to the grand jury about Monica Lewinsky -- and Scanlon objected to "this whole thing about not kicking someone when they're down. You kick him until he passes out, then hit him over the head with a baseball bat, then roll him up in an old rug, throw him off a cliff, and pound the surf below!!!!!"
PS: He loved those exclamation points, I promise!
TG: What was Scanlon's role in the impeachment process?
PS: He was part of the DeLay war room. I think for many prominent Democrats a lot of scores are being settled here. Actually, I think Tom DeLay and Company argue this, that the reason they're being singled out for investigation is because there's some vendetta against them for their actions against Democrats in the past. But no, these are tough guys. These guys play for keeps.
TG: Do you have a sense of how the Republican Party is being affected by the fact that Tom DeLay, the powerful House Majority Leader, is no longer House Majority Leader? He's bogged down in investigations. Abramoff and Scanlon who were really major fundraisers for Republicans -- they're being investigated. How are these investigations, do you think, affecting the larger power base of the Republican Party, or of the Bush administration in particular?
PS: I don't think we know yet. And you have to remember that opinion polls showed that the public has held Congress in low esteem for many, many years. So the fact that there might be bribery and corruption on Capitol Hill -- I don't know if it comes as a great shock! And I don't know how it would affect the overall election results next year or in three years. A concern on the part of a lot of Republican strategists is that some of this at some point is going to take... I don't know, the Tom DeLay criminal case in Texas, for example... I don't know if people, the public, can follow that. It's a convoluted tale of violations of state ethics laws. But this week we had a plea bargain by a member of Congress, Republican from California, Duke Cunningham, who acknowledged taking $2.4M in bribes, and this included things like a Rolls Royce and antique toilets and a yacht that was apparently called "The Dukester" -- I think some of that is probably memorable detail that voters might remember next year when they cast their ballots. And I think in the case of Abramoff, the excess is so great and the details are so delicious -- often -- that people might remember it and wonder whether there's a larger problem here. I think we're going to hear a lot in the future about Abramoff's restaurant in Washington, called "Signatures." It's one of the most expensive restaurants in town that Abramoff used as a second office and at which he would wine and dine members of Congress every night to an extraordinary degree -- and comp 'em. He wouldn't charge them. I think when we find out exactly how much champagne Congressman X drank, and how elaborate were his meals with his wife and children and best friends, I think some of that detail may be pretty memorable to a lot of people. Then we could see some effect on the larger elections results.
TG: Where are we now in the investigations into Abramoff and Scanlon? What's next for both of them?
PS: Well, Scanlon has agreed to cooperate and to some degree he's been cooperating, apparently, for several months. I think we're waiting for many shoes to drop. I don't know if we have any strong sense that there will be an additional indictments soon, but I think we're going to see additional indictments down the road. Otherwise, the Justice Department wouldn't have sought out a deal with Mr. Scanlon. Obviously they consider his testimony useful in bringing down others. I think there's an understanding that some sort of action against Abramoff is simply a matter of time.
Audio available here.