Ken Mehlman Killed State Department Nomination on Abramoff’s Behalf

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There was such a wealth of muck in David Margolick’s Vanity Fair piece on Jack Abramoff last week that it was possible to let the occasional morsel slip by. The piece mentions, for instance, that Ken Mehlman (who, like many, was uncomfortably close to Abramoff) got his hands dirty:

“…according to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged email with Abramoff, did him political favors (such as blocking Clinton-administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job)…”

Now, this parenthesis is news; as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been reported before. So the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, who like everyone else says he barely knows Abramoff was actually killing nominations for him only a few short years ago.

Now, to properly appreciate its delectability, you need a little more backstory on Stayman. So let me give you some more of the background details.

Stayman had been on Abramoff’s hit list for a long, long time, because, as a higher-up at the Interior Department, he had been an ardent advocate for bringing the sorts of labor and immigration reforms to the Northern Mariana Islands that Abramoff had been hired to squelch. How do I know that Abramoff wanted Stayman gone? Because Abramoff said so in one of his famous emails – this one leaked long before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee began investigating him.

From the Washington Post, back in 1998:

One of the nation’s top lobbying firms is training its sights on an Interior Department office that has become increasingly critical of one of the firm’s main clients, a controversial U.S. territory in the western Pacific, according to a leaked memo.

The law firm, Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, said it would use its influence on Capitol Hill to abolish or “severely restrict” Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, according to the e-mail memo, copies of which have been sent anonymously to news organizations. It proposes the action as part of a far-reaching campaign to counter mounting allegations of human rights and labor violations in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands….

Written by Jack Abramoff, the Seattle-based firm’s chief lobbyist on the Northern Marianas, the four-page e-mail, dated Jan. 31, provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a high-powered lobbying campaign. The memo, which Abramoff says was “stolen” by an unidentified culprit, suggests that Preston Gates has successfully used a series of junkets for lawmakers and their staff members to ensure that Congress does its bidding….

The lobbying plan, according to the e-mail, was aimed primarily at using congressional hearings, scheduled to begin in the Senate today, to “impeach Stayman and his campaign against the CNMI, enabling us to then go to the appropriations process and either defund or severely restrict his activities….”

Other planned activities included “preparing the Stayman attack” and “preparing legislation to be introduced into the appropriations process. . . .” It said that “thanks to past trips” to the tropical islands, the CNMI has “many friends on the Appropriations Committees in the Congress….”

The e-mail, which said that Stayman’s office “has been the main source of difficulty” for the CNMI, suggested that it would be better to enact funding restrictions to stop Stayman from attacking the commonwealth rather than to close his office, which could generate “hostile” news coverage and allow the Clinton administration to move Stayman and his duties to another office.

This was 1998. The attacks, as predicted, followed, resulting in an investigation before the House Resources Committee – led by none other than Rep. Don “No Professional Relationship With Jack Abramoff” Young (R-AK). The charge was that Stayman had violated the Hatch Act by issuing political memoranda from his Interior Department office. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, but suffice it to say that no charges were ultimately filed.

The fight against Stayman moved to the State Department when, much to Abramoff’s chagrin, he became the Director of Compact Negotiations there – meaning that he was the U.S. representative in talks with the Marshall Islands (a former Abramoff client) and Micronesia. It’s fair to assume, I think, that Abramoff didn’t want Stayman anywhere near potential clients. So this is where Mehlman must have come in – to follow through where Abramoff had been unable to.

After Bush entered office, Ken Mehlman was the White House Political Director. According to Margolick, he played a key role in removing Stayman, and it seems that there are documents to support that. Let’s see Mehlman, such an adept spinner, spin this away.

But wait! Just to make sure that you don’t mistake this for a fly-by-night favor, let it be known that Mehlman and Abramoff were close. As Margolick notes, Mehlman had “Sabbath dinner at [Abramoff’s] house” and “offered to pick up his tab at Signatures.” And there were a number of pictures of Mehlman and Abramoff on Reflections Photography, where we nabbed this classic picture of Abramoff with Ralph Reed. Don’t go looking through the Reflections site now, though – they’ve since been scrubbed off.