How much of the stuff in the recent Government Reform Report on Abramoff's ties to the Bush Administration is new?
Stone: I think thereâs a fair amount of new detail in the Government Reform Report but I donât think itâs the whole story by any means yet. I think weâve now got a more conclusive e-mail trail from Abramoff and his associates to folks at the White House that show a little over 400 contacts apparently over a three year period between Team Abramoff and the White House.
This is all interesting stuff, and beyond that, thereâs a section of the report which talks about results, which show that Jack had mixed results, but some of the results that were achieved seem suggestive, interesting ones that could lead to more investigations by Congressional investigators and perhaps by other investigators as well.
Whether any of this leads to criminal investigations, I think itâs too early to say, much too early to say. I think the report doesnât flesh out a lot of stuff. It came out rather quickly, it seems, itâs unclear why it came out right now, but thereâs a lot of good material here for reporters and investigators, both on the Hill and elsewhere perhaps to dig into in the coming months.
According to a recent ABC news report, Abramoff lobbied for something like 20 different nominations in Interior Department and other departments and they said he got one. It seems like he might have been more successful in blocking nominations than in getting them. Does that indicate to you that he wasnât as successful as he would have liked?
Stone: Well, obviously he wasnât as successful as he would have liked. And thatâs part of the story of Jack Abramoff, thereâs a mixed record of success.
Itâs clear that he was working a lot of different folks in terms of getting appointments to the administration. One of the examples that I cite in my book, which I think is an interesting one that he tried very hard on was getting a former Secretary of Labor from the Marianas appointed to a top slot in Interior. And he worked very hard on this one, he pulled out a lot of stops on this, including getting Ralph Reed involved in early 2001 to go to Rove on this. Jack did have a meeting with Rove in March of 2001 on this issue but was never successful in getting his ally from the Marianas, Mark Zachares, an appointment in the administration.
In this case, Zachares was, according to Abramoffâs own associates, radioactive, very radioactive. First, because the issue was so politically charged on Capitol Hill with the Marianas under so much fire from Democrats and moderate Republicans -- because of their labor conditions and the sweatshops there in the textile industry. To get somebody in who had that kind of track record running the Marianas would have taken a lot of pull.
Secondly, this was a fellow who Abramoff, we now know, had made some contributions to, that were quite suspicious, one was $5,000 before he became secretary and I believe $5,000 after he left his post, these were monies that came from Abramoffâs personal charity, Capitol Athletic Foundation. So this was one where he tried very hard but didnât have success.
Do you think thatâs just the fact that he was trying to get someone who clearly was his shill on positions and it was just too much politically?
Stone: Well in this case the odor was too strong. As I said, even one of Abramoffâs associates told me this guy was âradioactiveâ and I quoted him as saying that in the book.
So, do you think you could say that his track record of success reflects his ambition as opposed to a lack of any traction at the WH?
Stone: Well, he did have a lot of drive and he tried, he had a lot of balls in the air simultaneously on lobbying issues and sometimes overreached. He often overreached, and this is a case of his, pushing too hard on something that was a tough sell.
What do you make of the White Houseâs response to this that thereâs been fraud in the billing records before, you canât believe anything these people say, theyâre all admitted felons and that sort of thing?
Stone: Well, itâs a defensive posture obviously, it strikes me that itâs very much an administration trying to spin some new details and minimize and downplay new evidence.
They do have some grist for their argument: obviously he has exaggerated stuff in the past, obviously he has defrauded clients and over-billed clients. Theyâre trying to make the best out of a story that has negative implications for them.
The negative implications, as people have noted, are that in the past, Rove and Mehlman have downplayed, extraordinarily, Abramoffâs leaks to them and now thereâs a little more evidence out there that there were more meetings than we knew about and there were cases where Jack apparently had some success on a few issues.
Letâs back up a little bit with regards to your book and the panoptic impression youâre able to get of how he worked.
Stone: I think itâs important to talk a little bit about the clients that Jack went for. That is emblematic of his career that Abramoff was very selective in his clients. He wanted ones that had a lot of money and who often didnât have that much experience in Washington and in some cases clients who were facing a make or break situation, a do or die situation, a life or death situation.
And he liked to find folks who could pay a lot of money and who sometimes, as one of his former colleagues told me, didnât have Washington offices so there would be less oversight of what Jack was doing for them, where he would have a freer hand.
And the Indian tribes fit the bill very well for this. As we know, Jack made a name for himself representing the Mississippi Choctaws in the mid-90âs when he started out as a lobbyist at Preston Gates right after the Republicans captured Congress, and he had some big successes early on.
Grover Norquist, his old friend from the College Republicans, became an early ally in this fight. Grover of course was running American for Tax Reform (ATR) and was very influential with top House Republicans including DeLay, and Speaker Gingrich at the time. A kind of symbiotic relationship developed early with Norquist, where Norquist would often, Jack would look to him for his grassroots clout on issues and Norquistâs ATR became a place that provided a lot of help to Jackâs clients, the Indian tribes and others, and benefited ultimately through contributions that some of these clients made to ATR over a period of years.
And about those young associates of hisâ¦.
Stone: Jack was famously known for looking for younger aides who were wowed by his lifestyle, wowed by his entertainment operation, and who in some ways Jack was able to seduce, if you will, and who were attracted to his lifestyle. And we saw a bunch of folks who fit that bill: Neil Volz, who was chief of staff to Ney, who became very important to Jackâs lobbying operation, both when he was in Neyâs office and after he left in 2002 and joined Abramoff was one who fit that billâ¦ [former DeLay chief of staff Tony Rudy] fit the bill, [former DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon] fit the bill and [former chief of staff to Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA)] Kevin Ring also.
These were people who were impressed with Jack and were looking to earn a lot more money fast and they did that when they moved to K Street. They were drawing salaries of 2 or 300,000 very quickly and they were attracted to Jackâs flash and glitter.
Whatâs next for investigators?
Stone: Iâm not sure how much this is going to change, in the short run the course of the investigation. This is an investigation that has been very methodical. Some people have wondered why itâs taken so long, but these kinds of investigations are fact-intensive, complicated ones, and so this year weâve seen several plea deals worked out that many of us thought would come out a little earlier, but have taken a little longer, beginning with Rudyâs plea in late March and then followed in early May by Volzâs plea and most recently, Neyâs agreement in mid-September to plead guilty to charges of honest services fraud.
These are ones that are, theyâre proceeding, I think, at a reasonable pace, it doesnât reflect a lack of aggressiveness, I just think theyâre putting these cases together very, very carefully to make sure theyâre as solid as they can be. There are still investigations under way, as we know: Ed Buckham is very much under investigationâ¦thereâs still scrutiny going on of at least two if not three members: Doolittle is still facing scrutiny, DeLay is still facing scrutiny and I believe Conrad Burns is still facing scrutiny, although his office is downplayed this and said he is not under investigation.
They say heâs not a target.
Stone: Heâs not a target. But we donât know who targets are sometimes, thatâs not always clear until very late in the investigation.
Have you seen any indication that investigators are looking seriously at the White House?
Stone: Not that I am aware of, no. As I said earlier when we started talking about the White House, I think this probably opens up, I mean, the investigators have most likely had this e-mail traffic for a long time. I have not heard of serious scrutiny of folks in the White House at this point. But once again, this stuff is very closely held.
And I donât think that weâre going to see this wind down this year, I think weâre going to see it go well into 2007. I think we may see a little more activity before the election but I think thereâs likely to be more certainly after the election and early next year.
Iâm interested in this idea that Abramoff passed himself off as a good Republican, helping the movement and all that, and thereâs the other side of him, which is just someone whoâs trying to become a billionaire. You seem to reconcile those two sides of him pretty well in your book.
Stone: He was both. I think he was a key ally of some of the leading conservatives in Congress, I think he was a crucial part of building DeLay Inc., supporting the DeLay lobbying operation, DeLay money operation, that was an ideological effort.
Abramoff did do a lot to help, I mean a lot of his clients, the Indian casinos, the Marianas, became central to his lobbying operation. They helped provide wonderful places of entertainment, where Capitol Hill staffers, members, where they had great times in his skyboxes which these clients paid for, or at Signatures [Abramoffâs restaurant].
But he also used them as personal piggy banks and at some point in 2001, obviously, greed became a key driving force for Jack. I mean, he wanted to get rich before, but in 2001 he and Scanlon developed their kickback scheme, their gimme-five kickback scheme â¦
But I think he was, for many of these years, he was still a key fundraiser for Republicans. The clients were overwhelmingly helpingâ¦ the Indian tribes were generally giving two out of three dollars to the Republican campaign committees and to Republican candidates as well as best friends in the conservative movement.