There is a rather cryptic article in tomorrow's New York Times about Jack Abramoff's first brush with the law back in 2002 and how he got unbrushed.
This is the case in late 2002, when the Acting US Attorney in Guam opened a criminal probe into Jack Abramoff's lobbying activities in the US Pacific island protectorate. Yet days after federal prosecutor Frederick A. Black notified the Justice Department's Public Integrity section of his inquiry into Abramoff, he was demoted. And his new bosses barred him from pursuing any other public corruption cases. That brought the entire Abramoff investigation to halt.
Administration officials argue there was nothing out of the ordinary with an acting US Attorney being replaced by a permanent apppointee. But Black had been the 'Acting' US Attorney in Guam for twelve years. So that explanation seems rather weak.
The news in the article is that FBI and DOJ IG personnel have been investigating just what or who might have been behind Black's timely demotion.
Former Attorney General Ashcroft comes in for some discussion, in part because Abramoff had apparently boasted of his close ties to the former AG and his staff at the Justice Department. Yet "a spokesman for Mr. Ashcroft," reports the Times, "said the former attorney general and his aides at the Justice Department had done nothing to assist Mr. Abramoff and his clients and had had no significant contact with him."
Now, it seems to me that Abramoff and Ashcroft must have been buddies on at least some level, because there's this heretofore unpublished email exchange (just added to the TPM Document Collection) sitting on my desk, in which their staffers are hashing out which date Ashcroft, his wife and his staff could enjoy the pleasures of the Abramoff skybox at DC's MCI Center in late 2000.
In the exchange, Abramoff's Kevin Ring hashes out possible dates with Ashcroft's Andy Beach. Ring later forwards the exchange on to Susan Ralston, Abramoff's skybox gatekeeper, for approval. And I can't help but notice the February 2nd, 2001 piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which notes that Ashcroft brought Beach with him to the Justice Department. Presumably, two years later, Beach was still there as Ashcroft's scheduler at Justice Department.
So who knows? Maybe there was just some line of communication after all.
Perhaps even more interesting, though, is a possibility that goes unmentioned in Tuesday's Times piece: Karl Rove.
The Los Angeles Times article on the Guam story from August 7th, 2005 (discussed here and reproduced here in the Globe) notes that Black's replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, apparently came at the behest of none other than Karl Rove.
Wrote the Times ...
His replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, was confirmed in May 2003 without any debate. Rapadas had been recommended for the job by the Guam Republican Party. Fred Radewagen, a lobbyist who had been under contract to the Gutierrez administration, said he carried that recommendation to top Bush aide Karl Rove in early 2003.
It's probably worth mentioning that at the point Black got the ax in November 2002 and was replaced by the party-backed Rapadas, the aforementioned Ralston was working as Rove's executive assistant.