Jack Abramoff's influence extended beyond politicians and special-interest groups. It reached into the press as well, according to Abramoff, the convicted felon and ex-lobbyist, speaking Monday night to a packed crowd at the National Press Club, including a front row filled with Native American tribal leaders.
Native American lobbyist Tom Rodgers, a key player in Abramoff’s fall from power as one of the nation's most influential lobbyists, confronted his former colleague about whether he tried to buy reporters or bribe them to write articles favorable for his clients.
Abramoff said he tried to get scholars at think-tank organizations to write opinion articles for his clients and get them placed in large newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal.
“One of the things that I regret that we did was try to get our client’s stories out; we would go to writers — mainly think-tank folks — to write op-ed pieces and try to get our op-ed pieces placed to promote our side,” Abramoff said.
Rodgers pressed Abramoff for names.
“Mainstream reporters? I don’t remember, but I’m not saying there couldn’t have been. I mean, my mindset in those days [was] if I could’ve gotten a mainstream reporter [then] 100 percent I would’ve done that, as unfortunate as that is,” Abramoff said.
Monday night’s talk was the latest appearance for Abramoff, who was recently released after serving three and one-half years in prison and is now publicizing his book, which suggests a detailed list of reforms Washington should enact to ensure a less corrupt lobbying culture.
Abramoff attempted to own up to his wrongdoings, which included defrauding Native American tribes of millions of dollars for his lobbying services.
“I’m not running away from the fact that that’s who I was — I was a killer in that business,” he said. “I wanted to do anything and everything I could to win and that’s why ultimately I fell. I let the ends justify my means.”
The tribal leaders did not publicly confront Abramoff regarding his crimes against them and their people. They also declined comment to the press.
It was his high success rate that ultimately brought Abramoff down. One of the top signs for law enforcement that a lobbyist is corrupt, Abramoff said, is if all of his clients are getting what they want.
“If you find a lobbyist who’s not losing, something’s wrong,” he said.
Abramoff’s fall from power ensnared former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who landed in prison, and helped force then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) from office. It also played a key role in Democrats taking back the majority in the House and Senate in 2006 and spurred Congress to pass the most sweeping ethics changes since the Watergate scandal.