GOP Chief, Abramoff Linked In New Government Report

By Rebecca Spence

Published July 07, 2006, issue of July 07, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

As the chairman of the Republican National Committee attempts to distance himself and his party from the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, a new government report suggests that the GOP leader used his previous White House post to aid the disgraced lobbyist.

Since allegations first surfaced in 2004 that Abramoff had bilked Indian tribes out of millions of dollars and bribed lawmakers and government officials, many prominent Republicans, including President Bush, have maintained that they barely knew the well-connected lobbyist. Earlier this year, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman described Abramoff as “someone who we don’t know a lot about.” But a new report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, which investigated Abramoff’s role in the removal of an interim U.S. attorney in Guam, indicates that Mehlman, Bush’s former White House political director and campaign manager, helped ensure that the lobbyist had a direct pipeline of information from the administration.

The 41-page report, released June 30, found that — “at the behest of Ken Mehlman” — a former Bush aide named Leonard Rodriguez kept Abramoff abreast of issues related to Guam, one of several American territories where the once-powerful lobbyist conducted business.

According to the report, Rodriguez said that Mehlman “recommended or suggested that I reach out to make Jack aware” of developments in the American territory. At the time, Rodriguez, who recently became political director of New York Governor George Pataki’s 2008 presidential campaign’s political action committee, was the White House’s point man on the appointment of Guam’s new U.S. attorney.

The new report — which concluded that Abramoff had no hand in the removal of Guam’s previous top prosecutor, after the official called for an investigation into the lobbyist’s conduct — comes as Mehlman heads his party’s effort to maintain control of Congress in November’s midterm elections. Some Democratic activists are predicting that information linking Mehlman and Abramoff could undermine the RNC chairman’s attempts to both offset the effects of multiple scandals and reverse his party’s flagging political prospects. It could hamper Mehlman’s ability to stump for embattled Republican lawmakers who have been directly linked to Abramoff, they said.

“Ken Mehlman is clearly not in a position to give cover to other Republicans who are tainted by the scandal,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, a partisan group.

“You don’t lie about relationships,” Forman told the Forward. “When you start lying, people are going to scrutinize you and ask questions.”

Democrats are also seizing on the new information as a rallying cry to call on the Bush administration to disclose fully its ties to Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to five felony counts in Washington and in Florida.

“The report that Ken Mehlman may have used his White House position to channel inside information to Jack Abramoff is an important window into the Republican culture of corruption in Washington,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera said. “Now that this report has come to light,” the DNC spokesman added, “Mehlman needs to come clean about his and the White House’s relationship with Abramoff.”

Republicans are defending Mehlman, saying that the Justice Department report’s reference to his directive to pass on information to Abramoff does not necessarily make the case that the two men knew each other well. A spokeswoman for the RNC, Tracey Schmitt, told The Associated Press that Mehlman often received and passed on such information in his White House role.

The RNC did not return repeated calls from the Forward for comment.

In an interview this past January with journalist A.L. Bardach, published in the liberal political news blog the Huffington Post, Mehlman said that he had little previous exposure to Abramoff. “Well, Abramoff is someone who we don’t know a lot about,” Mehlman said in the interview. “We know what we read in the paper.”

Journalist David Margolick painted a different picture in his April Vanity Fair story on Abramoff and his anger over former Republican allies who now say that they barely knew him. In the Abramoff tell-all, Margolick asserts that Mehlman and Abramoff enjoyed a cozy relationship, with Mehlman doing political favors for Abramoff that included blocking former Clinton State Department official Allen Stayman from keeping his job. According to the story, the two also had a Sabbath dinner together (Mehlman’s representative said in the article that the RNC chairman did not recall the meal). In a phone interview with the Forward, Margolick said that he saw “folksy, chatty” e-mails that had been exchanged between Abramoff and Mehlman.

In recent months, as Mehlman has sought to shore up support for his party, he has made appearances on political talk shows and campaigned for Republican lawmakers in key battleground states. If Republicans lose six Senate seats and 15 House seats in the November midterm elections, it would tip the scales toward a Democratic majority in Congress, which has been under Republican control for more than a decade. At least five incumbent Republican senators are facing tough races, with Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Conrad Burns of Montana widely viewed as some of the most vulnerable.

In late March, Mehlman touched down in Ohio to stump for DeWine.

Mehlman recently appeared at Montana’s state Republican convention to stump for Burns, who has been plagued by reports of his ties to Abramoff and is struggling to fend off a hefty challenge from Democrat Jon Tester.

Burns has been pummeled over the past year by a series of Democratic attack ads highlighting the three-term senator’s reported close ties with Abramoff. While Burns denies any wrongdoing in connection with Abramoff, he voluntarily returned $150,000 in campaign donations from the former lobbyist. Local press reports state that, during a news conference, Mehlman brushed aside questions about the senator’s ties to Abramoff, instead focusing on the issues that divide Burns and Tester, who leads the Republican senator in early polls.

Earlier that same week, during an appearance on the late-night political talk show “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Mehlman found himself addressing Republican misdeeds. Asked by Stewart why Republicans no longer were “the straight talkers, the adults,” Mehlman replied, “I think greed, cynicism, all of those things caused us to do it.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.