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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Jack Abramoff’s Ring of Fire

If you want to know why the ever-burgeoning Jack Abramoff network of meta-scandals really matters to people other than those he defrauded, check out Susan Schmidt’s front-page article in the Sunday Washington Post.The headline focuses on shadowy dealings between Abramoff and a Deputy Secretary of the Interior who appears to have intervened in two separate cases to put roadblocks in front of Indian casino plans that threatened the financial interest of Abramoff clients–the clients he was at the same time massively ripping off. Turns out Abramoff was also trying to hire the guy for his lobbying firm.But the subplot that strikes me as equally significant is the role played in one of these cases, involving a Michigan tribe, by a woman named Italia Federici, who headed an organization called Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. Here’s what Scmidt says about this group:

Federici’s group, CREA, was founded in the 1990s by conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Gale Norton, now secretary of the interior. It has received financial backing from chemical and mining interests, leading some environmentalists to brand it a front for industrial polluters. Abramoff directed tribes he represented to donate $225,000 to CREA from 2001 to 2003.

Federici jumped into the Michigan case to demand an environmental impact statement for the proposed casino that Abramoff wanted to stop, after getting an “urgent email” from Casino Jack himself. And the ploy worked for quite a while, slowing the project down until this year.So you’ve got bogus environmentalists who’ve benefitted from Indian Casino money (not to mention Abramoff’s brother-in-arms Grover Norquist) asking for a bogus environmental impact statement from a department headed by one of its founders–a statement insisted upon by a deputy from that department whom Abramoff was trying to lure into a incredibly lucrative lobbying gig. Federal investigators are now looking into the whole mess, but whether or not indictments even come down, this case shows how incredibly incestuous a network Republicans set up linking high–level policymakers, far-right ideologues, and shakedown artists and influence-peddlers like Jack Abramoff. This billowing ring of smoke suggests a ring of fire that could burn down the whole conservative ascendancy if Abramoff’s hijinks were the rule rather than the exception in the ethical standards of the GOP. And so far, we aren’t seeing much evidence that anybody in authority in Washington thought Abramoff was anything other than an absolute prince.

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