Reviewing the Culture of Corruption

Publish Date: 
Thursday, October 6, 2005

Two things have become clear about the modern conservatives who run Washington these days. First, they have failed at the basic responsibilities of governing - creating broad-based prosperity, managing our finances, keeping us safe and meeting new challenges as they arise. Second, they have become corrupted by their power on a scale perhaps unprecedented in American history, bringing shame to our government and our nation.

The widespread corruption of the Bush era has only recently become apparent, and deserves a review. In recent weeks we've seen:

  • An escalation of the criminal investigation into Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and other senior White House officials for a treasonous leak of a CIA officer's identity, as the inquiry moves towards its inevitable climax.

  • The House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, indicted twice.

  • The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission open insider trading investigations of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and his family's company, HCA.

  • A senior White House official, David Safavian, arrested and subsequently indicted. In addition, the Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department announced that the Katrina contracting process overseen by Safavian and his boss, Karl Rove has been riddled with fraud.

  • An internal investigation into the Education Department determine that the Administration has broken the law in selling its education policy initiatives.

Breathtaking, unbelievable, tragic, shameful. And that is to say nothing of the Abramoff Affair. Were our nation's government not consumed by this historic wave of scandals, Abramoff's shocking web of corruption would surely command Americans' undivided attention.

We know the basic story. Jack Abramoff was the most successful lobbyist of the Bush era - high-profile and super-connected. He wined and dined seemingly everyone, and took high-level conservatives on now-legendary junkets. He moved lots of money around, often legally. He was very close to Tom DeLay and the House Republicans. Two former staffers, including the recently arrested David Safavian, joined Karl Rove in the White House at senior levels. Grover Norquist ran his campaign to be head of the College Republicans many years ago. He owned a restaurant, Signatures, that became the watering hole for the conservative movement. Last month Abramoff was arrested by the FBI for a deal involving SunCruz, a cruise line he and an associate bought a few years ago.

In the incredible rush of news last week you may have missed five important developments in the Abramoff affair. Let's review them:

  • Employees of Abramoff's company were arrested for murder. According to The Washington Post, shortly after Abramoff wrestled SunCruz from its owners, including Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, Boulis was gunned down in a gangland style slaying. This week three men, connected to Abramoff and all known to have ties with organized crime, were arrested for the murder. In the same piece, the Post also reports that Tom DeLay and Congressman Bob Ney helped Abramoff in his effort to get Boulis to sell him the company, directly connecting them to this incredible development.
  • The Abramoff case now officially involves DeLay and Margaret Thatcher. The White House confirmed this week that the investigation into Jack Abramoff has moved to London, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will be interviewed about her role in an Abramoff/DeLay trip there in 2000. According to The New York Times, "The interview request was the first publicly disclosed evidence from the Justice Department that Mr. DeLay was under scrutiny in the department's wide-ranging corruption investigation of Mr. Abramoff."
  • In 2002 Karl Rove intervened with the Justice Department to stop an investigation into Abramoff. As both The New York Times and Josh Marshall have reported, in 2002 the US Attorney in Guam opened an investigation into Abramoff's dealings there. Within days he was demoted, stripped of his ability to investigate public corruption cases and replaced by a local GOP favorite recommended by Rove.
  • Abramoff and conservative leader Grover Norquist have been longtime business and political partners. Their relationship began in college, but blossomed in recent years. A good piece by the National Journal on Friday details the millions they raised and spent together.
  • The White House choice for Deputy Attorney General was discovered to have close ties to Abramoff. Tim Flanigan, the nominee to become number two at the Justice Department, was found to have hired Abramoff just a few years ago to help his new company, Tyco (yes, that Tyco) lobby the White House and DeLay. Democrats have acted properly in slowing down his confirmation and wanting to know more.

The word in Washington is that dozens of Department of Justice career prosecutors are working on this widening scandal full-time, and that it involves all the people named above and many more, both Members of Congress and Congressional staffers. Much of what broke in the past few weeks shows how corrupt the entire conservative movement had become. The Abramoff scandal is clearly only one piece of an emerging web of corruption that includes virtually the entire leadership of our modern day Tammany Hall.

As these historic scandals continue to bring shame on our once proud government, those of us who still believe in the bold promise of the American ideal can take some solace in knowing that each revelation brings the corrupt Bush era closer to its final act.