Let's return to the matter of Timothy E. Flanigan, currently awaiting confirmation as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, and Jack Abramoff.
To review the highlights of our story, Timothy Flanigan was appointed Deputy White House Counsel at the beginning of the Bush administration. He later left that job to become General Counsel of Tyco Corporation, which had relocated to Bermuda to avoid paying taxes to the US Treasury. At Tyco, Flanigan hired Abramoff to fend off legislation which would have forced Tyco to pay its taxes. And, in the course of that hiring and work, Abramoff first boasted of his access to DeLay, Rove and others and then later claimed that he had spoken to Rove and enlisted his assistance on Tyco's behalf.
When we discussed this Friday, I noted that any suggestion that Abramoff had just fooled Flanigan into believing that he had more access than he had was highly implausible since Flanigan, as Al Gonzales' deputy at the White House, would have gotten a good sense of who Abramoff was and the level of juice he had with Rove and other Republican power-brokers.
Now, after I made this point on the site, a conservative acquaintance of mine emailed and asked a sensible question. If Flanigan was so plugged in at the White House -- enough to know how tight Abramoff was with the president's key advisors -- why exactly did he need to hire Jack Abramoff?
Didn't he already have enough access to handle the issue on his own?
Good question. But there's a pretty straightforward answer once you get a clear view of what sort of operation Abramoff was running.
So this a good opportunity to restate the point.
On paper, Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist. And he made a great deal of money for himself. But if you think of Jack Abramoff as just a crooked lobbyist most of the facts coming out about what he did don't make a great deal of sense. He was a key player in a very big political machine and he was managing a slush fund.
Look at the pattern.
Notice how all Abramoff's clients seemed to get 'bilked' out of large sums of money that ended up going to other conservative foundations, consulting firms, Ralph Reed, lobby shops, Grover Norquist, astroturf organizers, politicians, etc.? All of them part of Washington's Republican infrastructure?
In the case of Abramoff's work for Flanigan and Tyco, Abramoff ended up sending the greater part of their $2 million lobbying fee to an astroturf outfit called Grassroots Interactive -- an outfit allegedly controlled by Abramoff and run by a guy who now works as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor of Maryland.
The money ended up diverted to other purposes beside the honorable task of whipping up populist enthusiasm on behalf of corporations that relocate to PO boxes in Bermuda to avoid paying taxes. Tyco lawyer George Terwilliger claims the firm "was a victim of a rip-off."
So is that it? Another rip-off? Another corporation which hires a lawyer out of the White House only to get taken in by Jack Abramoff's wiles? Please. How many times can one operator pull off the same stunt? How many times do big chunks of these pay days get passed on to other operators and organizations without the operators and organizations getting wise to the game?
These odd diversions aren't the exception but the rule.
The Republican machine built by DeLay, Norquist, Abramoff, et al. and pulled into high gear after 2001, is a pay-for-play political machine. This is just another part of the operation, like the diktat for trade associations to hire only Republicans. Big political machines need their soldiers taken care of -- jobs on K Street which also discipline the trade associations under Hill leadership. Just so, they need big sums of money to move around off the books. How does Rove keep the millions moving to Norquist? To Reed? To all the other operatives whose names you don't know about?
Indian tribes bursting with millions who need very focused sorts of legislative intervention -- that's one good source of money. Corrupt Pacific Island governments who need similar help -- another good source.
If Tyco wanted help, they had to pay in. That's what the $2 million was. Of course it got passed on to some other GOP outfit with Abramoff connections. That was the point!