The rehabilitation of Jack Abramoff hit a snag this week when the confessed GOP felon bailed out during a radio interview that included a surprise encounter with a Native American lobbyist and whistleblower.
Abramoff appeared Monday on the San Francisco-based Peter B. Collins Show, one of several media stops since the release this fall of Abramoff's book. Monday's interview seemed to be going smoothly, with Abramoff proving genially evasive on a number of questions, including some about Alabama politics. But the tone changed when Collins welcomed Tom Rodgers to the conversation.
Rodgers, who is part Blackfoot Indian and part Irish, runs a Washington lobbying firm and is credited as one of three Native American whistleblowers who helped expose Abramoff's crimes. Shortly after Collins introduced Rodgers--and Rodgers launched into one of several questions he wanted to ask Abramoff--the audience could hear a click and then a dial tone.
Collins interrupted Rodgers, who apparently did not understand what had happened. "Tom, Jack Abramoff hung up on us," Collins said.
"Jack hung up?" Rodgers said. "Wow!"
"I guess there are limits to his ability . . . to confront his own wrongdoing," Collins said to Rodgers. "You were very polite in the way you were addressing him. He seemed to be willing to talk to me about many issues, but I guess talking to you, ear to ear, was too much for him."
The interview can be heard at this link to the Peter B. Collins Web site. (The Alabama segment starts at about the 25:00 mark.) A followup about Abramoff's hasty exit can he heard at this link.
Abramoff apparently sensed that Rodgers' arrival meant the heat was about to get turned up. And he was right about that. Rodgers said he had planned to focus his questions on two primary subjects:
* Allegations that Abramoff and fellow GOP felon Michael Scanlon had gone to a Native American council with a plan to take out life insurance on tribal elders and apply those death benefits to lobbying bills.
* Allegations that Abramoff and his associates had paid news reporters for favorable coverage or placement.
Rodgers joked about his role in the Collins interview, saying he thought it was "about time an Indian gets to ambush a white guy."
|Peter B. Collins|
"I thought there was an opportunity here for Jack Abramoff to really come clean about the way he manipulated one tribe against the other in an effort to super serve his high-paying clients . . . ," Collins said. "These issues with Native Americans are at the center of the misdeeds he partially admits to, and partially accepts responsibility for, in his book and on this rehabilitation media tour he's on right now."
Until being confronted by Rodgers, Abramoff proved adept at deflecting questions on a number of topics, including his role in using $20 million from Mississippi Choctaws to defeat gaming initiatives in Alabama.
Abramoff denied playing any role in the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. "The only operation I put in motion was to beat him in the election," Abramoff said. "I don't want anybody to go to prison. Am I remorseful we went after him politically? He was on the other side from what our clients wanted. Our clients didn't want to have gambling in Alabama."
Susan Ralston, who worked for Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig, went on to serve as a deputy under Karl Rove in the Bush White House. And powerful evidence suggests that Rove led the effort to target Siegelman.
Did Abramoff, Collins asked, ever enlist Susan Ralston to run interference or communicate messages that helped lead to the Siegelman prosecution? Abramoff said he had not.
What role did Abramoff play in helping Bob Riley get elected in 2002? "I don't know about that. I wasn't involved at that level. All I did was direct our people to activate the coalition we had built to beat gambling."
Was Michael Scanlon, who used to work for Riley, involved in the 2002 election? "Very much so."
Did Scanlon participate in the efforts to prosecute Don Siegelman? "I doubt it. I've never heard of anything like that."
How do Abramoff's answers hold up in the wake of his retreat once Tom Rodgers arrived?
Rodgers himself provided some perspective. "If you look at the whole pattern of interviews, there is an enormous amount of deflection, a very limited acceptance of any personal responsibility. . . .
"The fact he could not participate in this dialogue means any apology still rings hollow."