Why Is McCain Sparing Abramoff Crony?

The New Republic has an interesting story on the feud between Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Grover Norquist, the Republican power broker and head of Americans for Tax Reform, who has extremely close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

McCain, who has spearheaded an investigation into Abramoff’s misdeeds, appears to be letting Norquist off the hook, despite the fact that Norquist’s fingerprints are all over Jack’s dealings.

Norquist and McCain have hated each other for about a decade, since McCain started pushing for campaign finance reform, TNR‘s Ryan Lizza tells us. Norquist, whose livelihood depends on the sizeable GOP power base he maintains in part by directing donations to various candidates and organizations, doesn’t take kindly to McCain trying to swipe his lunch money. Hence, feud.

When McCain, head of the Indian Affairs Committee, heard of Abramoff’s misdeeds, he jumped at the chance to investigate them, knowing of Jack’s ties to Norquist.You see, among other ways, Norquist helped Jack by laundering money: While milking Indian gaming tribes out of $45 million, Abramoff would direct the tribes to pay money to Norquist’s ATR, which would deduct a fee and write a check to the conservative cause of Abramoff’s choice, thus masking the source of the donation.

“McCain could hardly have anticipated the cosmic convergence of events that would lead to Norquist’s head being delivered to him on a platter,” TNR‘s Lizza writes. McCain held hearings, subpoenaed documents, and. . . nothing. “At every moment when McCain could have pulled the trigger, he let Norquist walk away.”

Indeed, at one point there was a showdown brewing: McCain had ordered Norquist to turn over his organization’s financial records. Norquist refused; McCain — perhaps knowing that the worst punishment Norquist faced for his impertinence was a misdemeanor charge — dropped the matter.

Why did McCain let Norquist, a blood enemy, off the hook? Lizza speculates that McCain is sly enough to consider his presidential ambitions before his personal animosities — or even, perhaps, justice. If Norquist can help McCain deliver primary votes, he’ll keep him alive.

That might work for McCain. For others of us, eager to see the entire Abramoff mess laid out in detail and in public, forgiveness may not come so easily.