Why would Jack Abramoff want minorities to have first dibs on the private development of a government building?
When Abramoff heard that the government was considering turning over the Old Post Office to a private developer, he salivated at the chance. He wanted to turn the landmark into a five-star hotel.
But there was a problem. He'd find himself competing against a group of big-time developers, and there was no telling that his bid would win out. That's where his buddy (and now convicted felon) David Safavian came in, who was chief of staff at GSA. All Abramoff needed to do to lock up the project, Safavian suggested, was have one of his tribal clients head his development team. Indian tribes qualify for HUBzone status, a federal contracting program designed to help out minority-owned and other small businesses. If Abramoff could get the project declared a HUBzone project, then all of those other big developers would be disqualified. His minority-led team would find itself the only game in town.
You can see Abramoff's development dream team here, a bunch of big-hitting architects, designers, and contractors. The Indian tribe was the Chitimacha of Louisiana. When Abramoff forwarded this line-up to Safavian, he responded, "OUTSTANDING!!! I assume that it will be under the auspices of the Tribe to get HUBZone status?" Abramoff responded "Yes."
So when LaTourette, along with Rep. Don Young (R-AK), wrote their letters -- which were drafted by a lobbyist working for Abramoff -- they were helping Abramoff lock up his bid to be a real estate mogul.
There's no evidence that LaTourette knew the full scale of Abramoff's ambitions, but that's because he didn't seem curious that an Indian tribe from Louisiana was interested in developing a Washington, D.C. landmark. He was doing a favor for a lobbyist buddy -- why get nosey with the details?
When Roll Call (1/25/06) first reported LaTourette's involvement, he responded candidly:
LaTourette said he "assumed" that Volz was acting on behalf of one of his tribal clients at Greenberg Traurig in making the request for a letter to the GSA. "I mean, why else would he come in?" LaTourette asked.
Since then, his opponent Katz has decided to make LaTourette's Abramoff ties an issue, arguing that "These letters were written specifically on behalf of Abramoff's client," and that "They weren't done on behalf of anyone in the 14th District.''
So now LaTourette has changed his tune. He's no longer quite so candid about his favor. He was doing it for the little guy, the minority, the oppressed!
`I don't know what the heck he (Katz) is talking about,'' LaTourette said. ``I have always believed in and supported small businesses owned by minorities and women.... If Mr. Katz doesn't believe in small, minority-owned business, he should just say that, because that is what my letter(s) said.''
And LaTourette apparently can't contain himself when it comes to the plain justice of rigging a Washington D.C. real estate deal for one of Jack Abramoff's tribal gaming clients. How could that be wrong? Such a stance, he says, is as plainly virtuous and true as acknowledging the beauty of sunshine:
"If Jack Abramoff himself came into my office asking me to sign a letter saying sunshine was good, would it make sunshine bad just because Abramoff wrote it?"'
I'd keep an eye on Ohio's 14th.