Abramoff Scandal

Another Scandal May Get Ratched Up A Notch

A federal judge has just ordered that the White House must turn over its visitor logs to public interest group Judicial Watch (who sought the documents under a FOIA request).  What this means is that we will soon learn when, how often, and whom, convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff visited within the White House.

The logs are to be turned over on May 10.  Set your calandar.

Bush Knew Abramoff, Spoke Knowingly About Abramoff’s Kids

More White House lies exposed.

Bush has said that he didn’t know Abramoff:

"You know, I, frankly, don’t even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don’t know him."

But Think Progress has obtained emails from Abramoff himself (sent to Kim Eisler, an editor at Washingtonian magazine) which suggest an entirely different story.

In the emails, Abramoff describes meeting Bush “in almost a dozen settings,” and details how he was personally invited to President Bush’s private ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a gathering of Bush fundraisers in 2003. Abramoff did not attend, citing a religious observance.

Abramoff emailed Eisler about his invitation to Crawford and his decision not to attend:

NO, IT WAS THAT I WOULD HAVE HAD TO TRAVEL ON SATURDAY (SHABBOS). YES, I WAS INVITED, DURING THE 2004 CAMPAIGN. IT WAS SATURDAY AUGUST 9, 2003 AT THE RANCH IN CRAWFORD

…[A]ccording to Eisler, Abramoff told him that the two have met almost a dozen times, shared jokes, and spoke about details of Abramoff’s family:

HE HAS ONE OF THE BEST MEMORIES OF ANY POLITICIAN I HAVE EVER MET. IT WAS ONE IF [sic] HIS TRADEMARKS, THOUGH OF COURSE HE CAN’T RECALL THAT HE HAS A GREAT MEMORY! THE GUY SAW ME IN ALMOST A DOZEN SETTINGS, AND JOKED WITH ME ABOUT A BUNCH OF THINGS, INCLUDING DETAILS OF MY KIDS. PERHAPS HE HAS FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING. WHO KNOWS.

Hmmmmm

The lead prosecutor in the Abramoff scandal is leaving the case because he’s been appointed to a federal bench by Bush:

The investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, took a surprising new turn on Thursday when the Justice Department said the chief prosecutor in the inquiry would step down next week because he had been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush.

The prosecutor, Noel L. Hillman, is chief of the department’s public integrity division, and the move ends his involvement in an inquiry that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

The administration said that the appointment was routine and that it would not affect the investigation, but Democrats swiftly questioned the timing of the move and called for a special prosecutor.

The Unbiased Media

I’ve been following the WaPo story with some interest, but haven’t commented on it.  And now, when I’m prepared to comment, Legal Fiction steals my thunder.

For those not up on it, it started with the Post’s Ombudsman, Deborah Howell, writing that Jack Abramoff gave money to Republicans and Democrats alike.  This created a howl from the left blogosphere, simply because it parroted Republican talking points that the Abramoff scandal is bi-partisan.  Which is simply, and bluntly, untrue. 

Howell made it worse for herself by making a correction, saying that what she should have said was that Abramoff "directed" money from his Indian tribe clients to Republicans and Democrats.  Again, this is misleading, and still implies that Democrats are involved in the scandal.  Yes, Indian lobby groups often contributed to Democratic candidates, but their contributions went significantly down after Abramoff became their lobbyist.  If anything, Abramoff directed his clients NOT to contribute to Democrats, and for the most part, they complied.

She issued somewhat of a retraction yesterday, writing:

My mistake set off a firestorm. I heard that I was lying, that Democrats never got a penny of Abramoff-tainted money, that I was trying to say it was a bipartisan scandal, as some Republicans claim. I didn’t say that. It’s not a bipartisan scandal; it’s a Republican scandal, and that’s why the Republicans are scurrying around trying to enact lobbying reforms.

But the Howell mini-controversy highlights a problem with the mainstream media today.  They fail for two reasons: (1) laziness; and (2) the bending-over-backwards not to appear biased in favor of liberals.  Legal Fiction explains it all nicely:

The thrust of the post-blogosphere liberal media critique has been focused on the press’s intellectual laziness and, to a lesser extent, its fear of right-wing criticisms.

The laziness comes in many forms. The first is the sometimes-pathological devotion to the balanced “he said/she said” template, even when the facts clearly reveal that the “she said” is factually inaccurate. A second manifestation of laziness is simply relying on intentionally-placed quotes from self-interested sources and treating the quotes as news – rather than what they are, which is “free” propaganda. A final point is the annoying tendency (which I often ridicule David Broder for) to treat both parties as equally bad on any and every controversy. Sometimes, of course, they are. But sometimes they are not. The Abramoff scandal is clearly – by any number of objective criteria – a one-party problem – though it’s easier to just go get a quote from each party representative rather than, say, researching the donation history of the Indian tribes at issue.

The other liberal critique is that the MSM has so thoroughly internalized conservative criticisms of bias that reporters go out of their way (often too far out of their way) to show they are not biased. Personally, I think Judith Miller was permitted to “run amok” largely because of the editors’ fears of appearing biased. See, we’re not baised. We put Miller on the first page. We let her do what she wants. As Josh Marshall explained:

So much of the imbalance and shallowness of press coverage today stems from a simple fact: reporters know they’ll catch hell from the right if they say or write anything that can even remotely be construed as representing ‘liberal bias’.

These two problems – laziness and fear of bias – converged in the Howell statement. It wasn’t just that she (as an ombudsman) wrote a factually inaccurate statement, it was the nature of the inaccuracy that drew the ire of the cyber-lynch mob. First, it represented the scandal as a bipartisan one. Second, it was a manifestation of the Broder “all-are-equally-bad” problem. …Third, and most importantly perhaps, it was literally a cut-and-paste statement from the RNC talking points. Now, I don’t think Howell is biased – I just think she was lazy and was afraid of appearing biased.

Unlike Publius, I think the major problem is fear of appearing biased, with laziness keeping a close second.  It’s time for the media to start providing the facts FIRST, and not what people are saying about the facts.  For example, deep in her clarification/retraction yesterday, Howell wrote this:

The Post also has copies of lists sent to tribes by Abramoff with his personal directions on which members were to receive what amounts.

Why, I wonder, hasn’t this been printed — even now?  After all, this would settle the matter of Abramoff’s personal directions.

Hopefully, when the dust settles, reporters will start to learn that they are going to have to answer for conclusory, unsupported bad reporting.  They will need to understand that reporting talking points as news isn’t news, it’s spin.

Bad Omens For Many

“Mr. Abramoff says he has information that could implicate 60 lawmakers,” the WSJ reports (subecription required).

Here’s some more news roundups on the impact of the Abramoff plea:

The Washington Post:

Abramoff represented the most flamboyant and extreme example of a brand of influence trading that flourished after the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives 11 years ago. Now, some GOP strategists fear that the fallout from his case could affect the party’s efforts to keep control in the November midterm elections.

USA Today:

What set Abramoff apart from legitimate Washington power brokers, federal prosecutors say, was his willingness to exploit an extensive network of Capitol Hill contacts — from well-positioned congressional staffers to members of the Republican leadership — regardless of the rules.

The Wall Street Journal:

Making the bribery case especially striking — and worrisome for members of Congress — is that some of its elements include transactions that occur in Washington every day. It is commonplace for lawmakers to solicit campaign donations from lobbyists, who routinely offer them in hopes of gaining advantage. Yet Mr. Abramoff also went far beyond routine practice by furnishing lawmakers with lavish trips, free meals and entertainment as well.

The New York Times:

In a city whose history is rife with scandal and the political price it exacts, from the F.B.I. sting operation known as Abscam to the savings and loans collapse involving ‘the Keating Five,’ some experts feared that the Abramoff investigation would eclipse all the rest.

The Los Angeles Times:

The corruption investigation surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff shows the significant political risk that Republican leaders took when they adopted what had once seemed a brilliant strategy for dominating Washington: turning the K Street lobbying corridor into a cog of the GOP political machine.