Now that Jack Abramoff is out of prison, he's speaking out against corruption in Washington, and he told Yahoo News in a recent interview that he's opened a pathway of communication with an unlikely source: Occupy Wall Street.
The former felon, who served three and a half years in prison for corruption, including bribing public officials, is promoting a new book, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist, which offers an autobiographical account of his rise and fall while also presenting a prescription for cleaning up Washington.
Abramoff says that since his release, he's been in touch with some of Occupy's "sensible" leaders, as he calls them, via Twitter and other channels of communication.
But Abramoff, once a major conservative Republican figure in Washington, hasn't switched party allegiances. In fact, he said he's pretty certain Occupy Wall Street has no future without political involvement.
"I think the response is 'while we're revolutionary, we're not in the power structure,' " Abramoff said of OWS supporters. "…Well, then, in that case, law enforcement is going to come and clear you out and the elected officials will have no fealty to you."
Abramoff said that if he were involved in the Occupy movement and advancing its agenda he would push for direct involvement in the political process via Occupy-endorsed candidates. Absent that, he questions whether the movement can be meaningful, or "change the power structure in Washington."
"That's where the tea party has been unbelievably effective," Abramoff said.
Though some conservatives have been loath to connect the tea party to OWS, Abramoff said they were both created in response to "frustration."
You can watch a clip of Abramoff speaking about the tea party and OWS above.
Prior to his 2006 guilty plea for conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in schemes that brought down lawmakers, lobbyists and Hill staffers, Abramoff hobnobbed with the most elite Washingtonians. He counted as personal friends and former colleagues several Republicans who grew to be some of the most influential conservatives today--including Grover Norquist, founder and President of Americans for Tax Reform, and Ralph Reed, the first executive director of the Christian Coalition.
Today, he says Reed, Norquist and others haven't spoken to him.
Abramoff says he doesn't blame them. A quick glance at his book jacket reveals how he knows his critics perceive him. "Jack Abramoff, he's scum," is one featured quote from CNN's Paul Begala. "And I hope he goes to jail and we never see him again. I wish he'd never been born," reads the quote from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who was among the leading recipients of fundraising cash from the disgraced superlobbyist while Burns was in the Senate.
Abramoff quickly demurred when Yahoo News asked to name favorites in the Republican presidential race.
"The minute I reveal who I like, that's it for that person," Abramoff said. "I'm not exactly the endorsement people are seeking."
He did reveal, however, that he's wary of the amount of exposure the Republican candidates are facing via interactions with the media as well as in nationally televised debates.
"I'm not certain that all these debates is a good idea for them," Abramoff said, noting the amount of "derogatory" and "critical" press that he believes "belittles" the candidates and forces them into intraparty battles.
He later suggested that if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had this much exposure in 2008, "I'm not certain the American people would have had a very favorable view of any of them at the end of the day."
As for the Iowa caucuses--which Mitt Romney won by the narrowest of margins on Tuesday--Abramoff questions whether they still have value. "If indeed the winner of the Iowa caucuses winds up not getting nominated again, they're certainly going to have to at least ask themselves is the emphasis on this state something they want to continue," he said.
You can watch Abramoff speak about the 2012 race below:
One candidate Abramoff is willing to offer his opinion about is Newt Gingrich. The former speaker of the House repeatedly crossed paths with Abramoff when both were working in and around Capitol Hill during the 1990s.
During his interview with Yahoo News, Abramoff also repeated an assertion he'd made during his book tour that what Gingrich did for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was essentially lobbying even though Gingrich was not a registered lobbyist.
"Most of lobbying is not face-to-face meetings on Capitol Hill," Abramoff said.
"I think Ron Paul made the astute observation that [Gingrich] basically got taxpayer money . . . . That is troubling."
Abramoff also noted that many Americans are unhappy watching members of Congress turn into millionaires after arriving in Washington.
That was just one entry in a litany of ills that Abramoff says continues to fester in the nation's capital, even after reforms enacted in the wake of the influence-peddling scandal that sent him to jail.
He goes as far as to say that a lobbyist who follows all the rules is a destined to fail in today's climate.
"I think the ethical lobbyists who merely go to present their clients' cases on the merits and try to present the facts and the merits and don't engage in the kind of chicanery that I did--and that many, many others did in terms of relationship building--they don't have a chance," Abramoff said. "They don't have a chance against me and my team and they don't have a chance against any of the big guys."
Some of the many reforms Abramoff advocates in his book include term limits for members of Congress--a measure endorsed by several Republican presidential candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. He also proposes a lifetime ban for lawmakers and their staff on employment by organizations that lobby--together with a ban on gifts to Congress coming from anyone who benefits from federal contracts and funds.
Abramoff also bristled at the suggestion that Americans might looks skeptically upon ethics advice from a notorious fraud.
"I get a lot of 'well, you're a felon', 'you're a criminal', 'you're a this,' 'you're a that,'" Abramoff said. "Okay. I am. So what? I'm not telling you something that's untrue. If you think it's untrue, then just disregard it. But if you think it's true, the source is not and shouldn't be important to you. What should be important is that these things are happening and they have to be stopped."
He bemoaned the stance of detractors who "feel that there's never and end to punishment" and "that you should be punished for the rest of your life."
"Well, I hope they live very pure lives and never have to be punished."
You can watch Abramoff speak on the perception of his character below:
For now, Abramoff remains focused on his mission to reform Washington; he concedes that he may not be "best spokesman" for the cause, but maintains his close-up experience of DC corruption adds a kind of paradoxical credibility to his proposed package of reforms. He says that he hopes to one day re-enter private business--and possibly the film industry, which he says is already dangling some prospective offers in front of him. (Abramoff wrote and produced the 1989 anticommunist action flick Red Scorpion, among other projects.)
Abramoff today remains on probation, is on the hook for millions in restitution, and will be a felon for the rest of his life.
"I'm remorseful every day," Abramoff said. "It's not a chapter of my life, it is my life. And there will never be a day that goes by when I don't feel it--and feel regret and remorse both for the stupid things I did, and things I could have done and should have done that were right and better, epiphanies I should have come to earlier, all sorts of things like that. But it is what it is."
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