Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
Capitol Crimes Updates
Torture headlines
Watch Video
Read Transcript
Comment
August 1, 2008

It's been almost two years since CAPITOL CRIMES first aired, and Jack Abramoff is in prison and cooperating with investigators. The public has since learned that Abramoff was only the center of a vast web of corruption. Each player who pleads guilty and cooperates with investigators reveals further the one-time reach of that web. As Bill Moyers explains on THE JOURNAL:
"One of the biggest scandals in American history has already sent one member of Congress to jail, others into retirement, and dozens of accomplices running for cover."
Jack Abramoff
Jack Abramoff is currently serving a five-year and ten-month prison sentence for the fraudulent purchase of casino cruise boats — a charge unrelated to his lobbying activities. He received the shortest possible prison term for cooperating with prosecutors in the ongoing investigation, but was ordered, along with his business partner, Adam Kidan, to repay a total of $20.7 million in restitution for the fraud.

Separately, Abramoff pleaded guilty in January of 2006 to charges of conspiracy, honest services fraud, and tax evasion in connection with his lobbying activities. Like many of his co-consipirators who have also pleaded guilty, Abramoff had his sentencing delayed while he cooperated with the government's investigation. On June 9, 2008, Abramoff's attorneys filed a joint motion with the prosecution asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to sentence Abramoff in September. Officials have said that his sentencing does not signal that the investigation is coming to an end.

>>WASHINGTON POST coverage of Jack Abramoff

>>NEW YORK TIMES coverage of Jack Abramoff

Tom DeLay
"The Hammer" resigned his post as majority leader after being indicted on three counts related to campaign contributions in 2005. A Texas judge dismissed one charge — conspiracy to violate election code by making an illegal corporate contribution — but let stand the other two more serious charges: money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.

The charges concern $190,000 the state alleges were collected from corporate donors and routed through GOP political action committees to Republican candidates for the Texas House. Texas law prohibits corporations from donating directly to candidates.

DeLay initially sought to hold on to both his leadership post and his seat in Congress but was pressured by his party to resign in 2006, before the end of his term.

Two of DeLay's former aides have pleaded guilty to charges related to the Jack Abramoff grand jury investigation, and the Justice Department has not commented on whether it is still investigating ties between Abramoff and DeLay. DeLay maintains his innocence and his lawyers have said he will not seek a pardon from George W. Bush.

In 2007, DeLay released a book, NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER. He used the platform to tell the story of his rise to power, but also to attack old political enemies and proclaim his innocence and importance to the conservative movement.

DeLay didn't stay out of the political arena for long. In 2007, he co-founded a conservative grass-roots organization, the Coalition for the Conservative Majority, and appears frequently in print and on news channels, including Fox News and CNN, to offer political analysis.

>>NEW YORK TIMES coverage of Tom DeLay

Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio
Former Representative Bob Ney was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to charges related to the Jack Abramoff scandal. In his plea deal, Ney confessed to essentially selling his office to Abramoff and others.

Because of the scandal surrounding Ney, Democrat Zack Space was able to win Ney's historically Republican Congressional seat in the 2006 election. The Republican party has waged an aggressive campaign against Rep. Space, and considers his a key district in the 2008 election, reports the NEW YORK TIMES.

>>NEW YORK TIMES coverage of Rep. Bob Ney

Ralph Reed
Reed's much-publicized role in the Abramoff scandal likely cost him the 2006 Republican primary for Georgia lieutenant governor. Reed was handily defeated in the Republican primary by Casey Cagle, then a little-known state senator. Reed has since ventured back into the political spotlight, appearing on CNN as an election-night analyst and writing the novel DARK HORSE about a third party candidate who shakes up a tight presidential election.

>>NEW YORK TIMES coverage of Ralph Reed

>>Ralph Reed on Charlie Rose

Grover Norquist
Grover Norquist, who allegedly used his non-profit, Americans for Tax Reform, to help Jack Abramoff move money in exchange for donations to his organization, remains an active force in conservative politics. He still runs Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group, and provides campaign assistance and policy ideas to conservative candidates.

Though a report from the Senate Finance Committee found that Norquist agreed to "carry out Mr. Abramoff's requests for help with his clients in exchange for cash payments," neither Norquist or his non-profit are officially under investigation. Norquist has maintained that any positions he has taken that coincided with Abramoff's were on ideological grounds.

Norquist has also recently released a book: LEAVE US ALONE, GETTING THE GOVERNMENT'S HANDS OFF OUR MONEY, OUR GUNS, OUR LIVES.

>>NEW YORK TIMES reporting on Grover Norquist.

Others Associated With Abramoff Scandal

Abramoff was the most powerful lobbyist in Washington, and the Justice Department investigation continues to expand into Congress and agencies throughout the government. Here is a list of those currently included in the investigation.

Michael Scanlon, former Abramoff business partner and DeLay aide, pleaded guilty in November 2005 to conspiring to bribe public officials in connection with his lobbying work on behalf of Indian tribes and casino issues. He is cooperating with investigators and has had his sentencing delayed.

Ed Buckham, DeLay's former chief of staff, launched the Alexander Strategy Group after leaving the Hill. Though the firm openly claimed it could provide access to DeLay, Buckham has not been charged with any crime. A federal grand jury subpoenaed the House for Buckham's e-mails and payroll records in September 2006.

Former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, the highest ranking administration official convicted in connection to the Abramoff investigation, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice. He admitted lying to a Senate committee about his relationship with Abramoff, who repeatedly sought Griles' intervention at Interior on behalf of Indian tribal clients.

David Safavian, the Bush administration's former top procurement official, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in October 2006 after he was found guilty of covering up his dealings with Abramoff. On June 17, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the conviction. The court ruled Safavian is entitled to a new trial.

The Justice Department has not signaled whether it will continue to pursue the case against Safavian.

John Albaugh, erstwhile chief of staff to former Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook pleaded guilty in June 2008 to conspiracy to defraud the House. Albaugh admitted in Federal court to accepting gifts in exchange for helping lobbyists with their clients. He faces up to 24 months in prison, but could have the sentence reduced in exchange for cooperating with investigators.

Robert E. Coughlin II, a former Justice Department official, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest in April 2008. He admitted to accepting gifts from a lobbyist while helping the lobbyist and his clients while working on legislative affairs at the Justice Department. Before his resignation in 2007 Coughlin was promoted to deputy chief of staff in the department's criminal division — the same department handling the Abramoff investigation.

Italia Federici, co-founder of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and obstruction of a Senate investigation into Abramoff's relationship with officials at the Department of Interior. Federici was sentenced to two months in a halfway house and four years of probation, avoiding prison by becoming a key witness in the continuing investigation.

Tony Rudy, lobbyist and onetime top aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, pleaded guilty in March 2006 to conspiring with Abramoff. His sentencing is delayed as he is cooperating with investigators.

William Heaton, former chief of staff for Bob Ney, pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge involving a golf trip to Scotland, expensive meals, and tickets to sporting events between 2002 and 2004 as payoffs for helping Abramoff's clients. Heaton was ordered to serve two years' probation, perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine.

Neil Volz, a former chief of staff to Bob Ney who left government to work for Abramoff, pleaded guilty in May 2006 to conspiring to deprive the public of honest services, plying Ney and others with trips and other gifts. On September 12, 2007, Volz was sentenced to two years probation and fined $2,000, avoiding jail by cooperating with the prosecutors in the case against Ney.

Mark Zachares, former aide to Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. He admitted accepting $40,000 in money and gifts in exchange for official acts on the lobbyist's behalf. His sentencing is delayed as he cooperates with investigators.

Roger Stillwell, a former Interior Department official, was sentenced to two years on probation in January after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge for not reporting hundreds of dollars worth of sports and concert tickets he received from Abramoff.

Tony Sanchez, former Guam Superior Court Administrator, has been indicted under accusations of bypassing Guam's procurement process by sending checks to Abramoff's law firm totalling more than $200,000. Abramoff's charges in the case were dropped when he agreed to cooperate with investigators in the case against Sanchez.

Former Rep. John Sweeney lost his seat to Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand in to 2006 reportedly in part due to questions about his relationship to Jack Abramoff. In June of 2008, Federal law enforcement agents raided an Albany lobbying firm as part of an investigation of Sweeney.

Former Senator Conrad Burns was defeated by Democrat John Tester in 2006, in part because of his close ties to Jack Abramoff. Burns accepted around $150,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff, his clients and associates. In 2007, Burns joined a lobbying firm, Gage, which had close ties to his office while he was a Senator.

Abramoff and the 2008 Elections
Besides the cloud the scandal has cast over Washington, D.C. as a whole, candidates with close ties to the disgraced lobbyist still face difficult re-election campaigns, even in districts deemed safe for their party.

Former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO), now running for Senate in Colorado, was forced to defend his ties to Abramoff after praising the Marianas Island's guest-worker program as a "model" for the United States.

Former-Rep. Schaffer visited the Marianas factories on a "fact-finding" mission funded by Jack Abramoff, a connection his Democratic opponent Mark Udall has been eager to point out. Schaffer maintains that his conclusions about the islands, notorious for their abusive labor practices, were made independent of the influence of Jack Abramoff.

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), who had been on an Abramoff-sponsored Scottish golf trip, was re-elected in 2006/ But THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reports that his ties are news again as he faces Democrat Suzanne Kosmas.

Representative John T. Doolittle (R-CA), chose to retire rather than run a re-election race while his ties to Abramoff are still under federal investigation. In April, 2007, the FBI raided Rep. Doolittle's home.

New Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Report

On June 9, 2008 the House Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a preliminary report on an investigation into contacts between Jack Abramoff and the White House. The draft report does not allege that Abramoff influenced any of the President's decisions. However the report does document a pattern of access at high levels. The report: "concludes that Mr. Abramoff had personal contact with President Bush, that high-level White House officials held Mr. Abramoff and his associates in high regard and solicited recommendations from them on policy matters, that Mr. Abramoff and his associates influenced some White House actions, and that Mr. Abramoff and his associates offered White House officials expensive tickets and meals."

>>Read the draft report and the relevant depositions and documents

The Northern Marianas and the Saipan Legislation
Legislation vehemently opposed by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff finally passed the Senate on April 11, 2008, extending U.S. immigration laws to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

In addition to extending U.S. immigration laws to the CNMI, the bill establishes a federally administered guest worker program in the American territory and raises the minimum wage.

References and Reading:
"Unraveling Abramoff," Compiled by washingtonpost.com
A guide to some key players in the investigation of Jack Abramoff.

"TPM Grand Ole Docket,"
The blog talkingpointsmemo.com tracks political scandals.

"Members of Congress charged with crimes,"
by the Associated Press.

>>From complete press and documentary coverage see our Resources section.

Published August 1, 2008.

Also This Week:

CAPITOL CRIMES: UPDATES
With former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is already serving five and a half years, expected to be sentenced on other charges next month, Bill Moyers takes viewers back to the scene of the crime in this update of "Capitol Crimes." The program examines the web of relationships, secret deals and political manipulation that exposes the use and abuse of power in American politics.

CAPITOL CRIMES RESOURCES
Go inside the world of Washington lobbying and the Abramoff case — follow the money; read the emails; investigate the legal documents and listen to Congressional hearings. .

WEB EXCLUSIVE: THOMAS FRANK
Bill Moyers interviews Thomas Frank, author of THE WRECKING CREW. Also, view a 2004 interview with Frank from NOW WITH BILL MOYERS.

WATCH last week's show
EXPLORE the archive
TALK BACK: THE MOYERS BLOG
Our posts and your comments
OUR POSTS
YOUR COMMENTS
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ   
SIGN UP FOR BLOG UPDATES AND PODCASTS EMAIL US