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September 05, 2008

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Gary S. Chafetz

I'm the author of The Perfect Villain. I became involved because this story seemed too good to be true. No one could be so evil. I did my best to bleach out my political leanings. (I'm a registered independent, but I've never voted Republican.)
I had no connections to Mr. Abramoff whatsoever. But I was able to persuade him to meet with me. The interviews began five months before his incarceration. I also visited him 13 times in prison. Prison interviews are not allowed without the warden’s permission. No paper or pencil or tape recorders are permitted. Hence, these were strictly social visits, but I couldn’t help writing down what I remembered when I got back to my car.
After exhaustively looking at publicly released documents, those never released to the public, media stories, conducting interviews with Abramoff, as well as his former SunCruz partners—Adam Kidan and Ben Waldman—and many others, I arrived at these seemingly implausible conclusions:
Abramoff never defrauded his Indian clients. The evidence shows he provided benefits to his tribal clients that far exceeded his fees, which is why they kept hiring him year after year. His clients, hardly unsophisticated, operated lucrative casinos. They hired the best lawyers, accountants, and consultants. Also, Abramoff never bribed any congressmen or staff. He simply played the lobbying game better than most. The “kickback scheme” with Michael Scanlon was a referral fee, perfectly legal. Lawyers, mortgage brokers, orthopedic surgeons do it all the time without disclosing it to their clients. Abramoff is certainly not guilty of income-tax evasion. Essentially, he gave away most of his money to tax-exempt, non-profit organizations. He didn't even pay off his own home mortgage. As for the bank fraud (wire fraud) charges down in Florida, Abramoff would have never been found guilty had it gone to trial. Kidan told me Abramoff knew nothing about the $23 million forged wire transfer. The lender knew Kidan was bankrupt and did not demand to escrow the $23 million cash down payment, because it wanted its huge closing fees for a loan that was safely over collateralized.
As for The Washington Post, its first stories were actually misleading, because the reporter, who had no expertise in Indian Country, relied on information from unnamed sources—namely, Abramoff’s competitors. However, the Post did run a story on September 26, 2004, that crossed the line. It claimed that Abramoff was the world's most underhanded sleaze, because he had specifically, secretly, and deliberately shut down a tribe's casino in El Paso, so that he could then persuade the tribe to hire him to get their casino re-opened for a fee of millions of dollars. This story was false, possibly deliberately. For this transgression, the Post's 2006 Pulitzer Prize should be rescinded.
The morning after the Post broke the first story, Sen. McCain launched an investigation into Abramoff. For reasons that will be clear if you read The Perfect Villain, McCain was seeking political retribution for something notorious (and reprehensible) in which Abramoff had been unwittingly involved during McCain's presidential bid 2000. In 2006, McCain released his 373-page Senate Indian Affairs Report. He has called it “fair, accurate, and neutral.” I have examined this report. McCain’s description could not be further from the truth. The report was truly mendacious.
So why did Abramoff’s tribal clients turn against him? Their consultants advised them to. They could sue his former employers—law firms that did not want their e-mail traffic made public—and win huge settlements, which is what those tribal clients did. They got Abramoff’s brilliant lobbying services at a huge discount.
Why did Abramoff plead guilty? I believe he was terrified not to. Federal prosecutors have a 95.5% conviction rate and unlimited resources. They threaten white-collar defendants that they will be found guilty of some technical crime, after which they will be put in a maximum-security prison with violent offenders for 30 years. Also, the legal fees will bankrupt them. Or, they can plead guilty, agree to cooperate, receive a much-reduced sentence in a prison camp, and be out of jail in three years or so. A risk-averse person would plead guilty. Now, Abramoff could not admit to me that all of this was true, because the prosecutors might charge him with perjury for not being sincere and remorseful when he pleaded guilty.
In the end, Abramoff wasn't a saint, but The Washington Post, McCain, and the Justice Department--the white hats--turned out to the villains, a rather counterintuitive conclusion.
The problem for me with McCain was his fraudulent report. He also employed an underhanded tactic. He only released about 2% of the Abramoff documents he had subpoenaed, which meant that independent investigators like me could not confirm McCain's conclusions. (Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on some of these documents.) It made me wonder if McCain is also withholding information about what really occurred during his 5 1/2 years as a POW. (I was also able to obtain four obscure documents-- published in Hanoi and Havana--of interviews he gave during his captivity that contradict McCain's claims in his later and multiple autobiographies.) McCain adamantly refuses to release his POW records. He adamantly refuses to release his Navy Service records. I've got to wonder what is he afraid of and what is he is trying to hide. Maybe there's nothing there, but I'd like to see for myself. At the moment, we're relying on John McCain as the only source and those records may contain information that may influence how the American electorate votes in the upcoming presidential election. Certainly, Vladimir Putin (the Soviet Union ran the Hanoi Hilton), the CIA, and North Vietnam have these documents. What makes the request for full disclosure so urgent is that if they contain compromising or damaging information on McCain, and if he were to become president, he might well be in a position to be blackmailed. The implications are unsettling, to say the least.
If you do end up reading The Perfect Villain, I'd be curious to know if you are persuaded that this story has gone from a black-and-white, open-and-shut narrative to a far more nuanced and complex one.

Gary S. Chafetz

Monty Warner

I think everyone should read Gary Chafetz's new book, "The Perfect Villain" regarding Abramoff. (www.theperfectvillain.com)

To learn about another harmful aspect of the Abramoff Scandal, please review document 40 in the case USA v Abramoff, filed on 3 September 2008. My 110 page PDF is accessible via PACER. The case number is 1:06-cr-00001-ESH.

A summary of the harms caused by Microsoft lawywer-lobbyist Jack A. Abramoff is found in my 10 page January, 2008 article, "The Greedy Gates Immigration Gambit." http://www.thesocialcontract.com/pdf/eighteen-one/tsc_18_1_nelson.pdf

johnr

He is supposed to cooperate!!! It's part of him cleaning up his own mess! Why is he being given a medal for doing something that he should be readily doing? So sad and twisted.

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