NEW: Abramoff says, "Our system is flawed and has to be fixed"
NEW: He calls his past lobbying work as "evil," "terrible" and "effective"
Fund-raising gives lobbyists "all the same access" to lawmakers, he says
Abramoff was released from prison in December
Ethics reforms put in place since the influence-peddling scandal surrounding high-rolling lobbyist Jack Abramoff haven’t cleaned up the system “at all,” a now-free Abramoff says.
Abramoff served three and a half years in prison for conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion before his release last December. In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” he said the reforms imposed after his guilty plea have little effect while campaign finance remains untouched.
“You can’t take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak or something like that,” he said. “But you can take him to a fund-raising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fund-raiser – and have all the same access and all the same interactions with that congressman.”
Abramoff’s interview with “60 Minutes” aired the night before a memoir, “Capitol Punishment,” is scheduled to hit shelves. In excerpts released ahead of the broadcast, he told CBS that lobbyists could find a way around just about any reform Congress enacted.
“There’s an arrogance on the part of lobbyists, and certainly there was on the part of me and my team, that no matter what they come up with, we’re smarter than them. We’ll just find another way through,” he said.
Years later, Abramoff describes some of the techniques he employed as a lobbyist as “evil,” “terrible” and, at the same time, “effective” for his firm, his clients and Republican politicians he usually worked with.
“I did things, and I was involved in a system that I should not have been in,” he said, explaining he rationalized his behavior in part by giving away much of his earnings to charities. “I’m ashamed … It was wrong what we were doing.”
The high-flying Republican lobbyist pleaded guilty to a raft of federal corruption charges in 2006 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating Washington influence-peddling. He admitted illegally showering gifts on officials who provided favors for his clients in a probe that led to convictions or guilty pleas for 20 lobbyists and public officials – including Ohio GOP congressman Bob Ney and Stephen Griles, the Bush administration’s deputy interior secretary.
Abramoff said the best way to get what he wanted to was to offer high-ranking congressional aides a job when they left public office. Once that was done, he told CBS, “We owned them.”
“Everything that we want, they’re going to do. Not only that, they’re going to think of things we can’t think of to do,” Abramoff said, estimating his office had “very strong influence” on 100 of the 535 congressional offices.
Neil Volz told “60 Minutes” that he was one such person, going from Ney’s chief of staff to the lobbying firm. He said that Abramoff’s skills of persuasion also made him a supremely powerful lobbyist.
“Jack Abramoff could sweet-talk a dog off a meat truck,” Volz said.
Abramoff said that his firm, for one, became expert at slipping in seemingly innocuous, often confusing language into legislation to benefit his clients. Other techniques included lavishing sports and events tickets on congressmen and their staffers and providing them with free food and drink (such as at his former Washington restaurant, Signatures).
“It is being done every day, and it is still being done,” he told CBS of what he deemed “bribery,” giving gifts to policymakers. “Our system is flawed and has to be fixed.”