Abramoff's New Book: An Attempt to Rewrite History

November 12, 2011

Sunday's 60 Minutes interview with convicted felon Jack Abramoff was hyped to show a wiser and repentant Jack Abramoff who learned some lessons after pondering his wrong doings while in prison.  Disappointingly, the segment showed that he was the same old Jack, the self-righteous, self-promoting con man. His message was that the system was corrupt (duh), that lobbyist can buy Congress (duh) and that the reforms do nothing to improve the corrupt system (duh).

As a lobbyist, Abramoff shamelessly bought members of Congress to push legislation favorable to his clients.  Clients like the CNMI that bought his services for $11 million.

If Abramoff was trying to apologize for his wrong doings or seek redemption, he fell short. Redemption requires full admission and truth; forgiveness is seldom granted to those who cannot take full responsibility for their bad actions that cause irreversible harm to innocent people. He did not even acknowledge one of the thousands of people that he hurt. His were not victimless crimes. The victims included the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers. Abramoff came across like a sleazy snake attempting to shed his old skin to become a shiny new and better version of his old self. It did not work. He remains the same sly and less than honest conman.

Shame on 60 Minutes for giving Abramoff a platform to pretend he was a "reformed" man. I would have liked to have seen a show where there were some hard hitting questions: "Mr. Abramoff, what would you like to say to the thousands of CNMI foreign workers who fell victims to illegal recruitment scams, human trafficking, forced prostitution, false imprisonment, wage theft and other abuses?"; "What do you have to say to the Indian Tribes you scammed?"; or "Mr. Abramoff, why didn't you investigate the allegations of abuses in the CNMI instead of believing your dishonest clients?"

Or maybe they could have presented a segment where Abramoff came face-to-face with some victims of his lobbying schemes. They had so many victims to select from. Maybe they could have selected several women who were forced into prostitution or raped by employers; the farmer who was choked and tortured; or the daughter of the man who set himself on fire outside the CNMI DOL because he was told he would be deported without being able to collect stolen wages.

If 60 Minutes was painful to watch, Abramoff's book, Capitol Punishment, the Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist is even worse. I wasn't going to buy the book because I did not want to enrich this man who hurt so many, but I learned that the profits will go to paying off his $20 million debt to his Indian tribe victims. I had hoped that the rumors that he was "reformed" were true and bought the book to see for myself. The rumors were false.

What do I think of the book? Abramoff is not a great writer.  The book is not much different than reading most of my high school student's writing assignments in terms of style. It is just straight narrative. The content is a nauseating attempt to rewrite history, make excuses, promote the conservative agenda, praise his buddies and attack his enemies.  It should not have the word "truth" written in the title.

The book contains such a distorted portrait of the CNMI that it is insulting to anyone with even a minimal knowledge of the history of the Mariana Island's over the last 30 years. In fact, if I did not know who wrote the pages on the CNMI, I would have thought that Governor Fitial or former Governor Tenorio authored them.

Abramoff's arguments in defense of keeping the corrupt CNMI labor and immigration system show ignorance of the reality of the true situation. Or is it denial because he realizes that his actions helped to perpetuate a system where tens of thousands of foreign workers became victims of illegal recruitment, scams, human trafficking, forced prostitution, and a host of labor abuses -unpaid wages, illegal deductions, contact violations and more? At any rate, it is an inaccurate and offensive view.

Abramoff stated that his father tired to set up a casino in the CNMI. It was his father's attorney, Randall Fennel who arranged a meeting between Governor Tenorio's niece, Brenda Tenorio and Jack Abramoff to seal the lobbying contract, according to the book.  Abramoff wasn't the CNMI's first choice for a lobbyist to defeat federalization. Initially, the CNMI signed up with the lobbying firm of Verner Liipfert, but within a month Governor Tenorio wrote a contract for Abramoff.

In the book, Abramoff claimed that he defended the CNMI because he saw the "place with his own eyes." Either he is blind or he saw what he needed to see to defend some of the scummiest, most self-serving politicians ever, in exchange for millions of dollars in lobbying fees. While the dump was burning, the infrastructure was crumbling, schools needed repairs and tens of thousands lived in extreme poverty in ramshackle barracks, millions were poured into Abramoff's pockets.

His attacks of Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Alan Stayman, 20/20,  Washington Post reporters and others who helped to expose the corruption, decry the abuses of the foreign workers and urge reform came across like he was a sore loser in a game of chess. The book is full of sour grapes and misplaced partisan criticism. He failed to mention that his own Republican hero, Ronald Reagan also complained about the CNMI guest worker program and warned island leaders to institute reforms. He also failed to mention that the takeover legislation that he fought so hard to prevent was signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.

Abramoff painted the Democrats as "hostile bureaucrats and Congressmen bent on their destruction." (Their meaning the people of the Marianas.) He claimed that Rep. George Miller (D-CA) was "vehement in his hatred of the CNMI." Abramoff is delusional, at best. Rep. Miller hates corruption, human rights abuses, and undemocratic systems, like the CNMI guest worker program.

Abramoff's narrative shows that if there is any hatred at all, it is his hatred for Miller and Stayman. He wrote about Governor Pedro P. (Teno) Tenorio's inauguration with disdain, stating that Rep. Phil English was "placed in a back row of dignitaries" while "Congressman George Miller and Interior Department Office of Insular Affairs head Allen Stayman, both implacable foes of the CNMI, were in the front row." In Abramoff's mind, those who support reform are foes.

His book portrayed his longtime friend, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and fellow junket taker, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) as white knights trying to "save" the poor CNMI government –the government that allowed abuses, failed to prosecute cases and brought in so many foreign workers that the indigenous people became a minority in their islands and the infrastructure was stretched to the limits.

Abramoff detailed the questionable (and some suggest, illegal) deal that Abramoff orchestrated to ensure that Benigno Fitial would be declared Speaker so that he could pressure the legislature and new governor to renew Abramoff's lobbying contract. Fitial promised Tinian and Rota legislators that he (Abramoff says "he" is Preston Gates) would get money for their infrastructure projects if they voted for Fitial for Speaker. He also wrote about the involvement of fellow lobbyists Mike Scanlon and Neil Volz in securing that underhanded deal.

The former felon also revealed that Willie Tan and the Western Pacific Economic Council (CNMI garment manufacturers) paid for much of the CNMI's lobbying fees since the CNMI government failed to pay up. In one of the most ignorant claims in the book, Abramoff praised Willy Tan, the garment magnate that built an empire on the back of foreign workers kept in slave-like conditions. He said, "His garment factories were showcases of efficiency and cleanliness."

The truth is, according to garment workers, that the factories were hell-holes where water was scarce, the barbed wire faced inwards, quotas were impossible to meet and Chinese law was enforced in shadow contracts on U.S. soil. In 1992 five of Tan's CNMI garment factories were sued by the U.S. Department of Labor and Willie Tan was fined $9 million, which was the largest fine the department had ever given.

Abramoff spoke of Governor Froilan Tenorio like he is a hero. Either Abramoff is an extremely poor judge of character or he is an idiot. He applauded Tenorio for proposing a school voucher program (that never materialized) and a flat tax proposal (that never came to be).

Although the CNMI government denied it, Abramoff reported that it was the CNMI government that paid for the dozens of junkets that the lobbyist arranged for members of Congress, staffers and the press to visit the CNMI. The plan was to wine and dine them, put on a horse and pony show and sway them to support the CNMI's desire to maintain control of their corrupt immigration system.

Pages of the book were devoted to describing golf games with Froilan Tenorio, Ben Fitial, Teno, and his pal, former Congressman and convicted felon, Tom DeLay (R-TX). He referred to the golf games as "political golf" perhaps to justify billing the CNMI for the hours. He also stated that Benigno Fitial made an annual trip to Texas to play golf in the  DeLay Foundation for Kids golf tournament, DeLay's charity.

Abramoff  discussed the leak of the "secret memo" that revealed the deceptive plan that Abramoff and the Preston Gates lobbyists plotted to manipulate Congress, the press, hearings and so-called "family values" groups to protect the CNMI from a federal takeover.  The memo also revealed how the firm was going after the perceived enemy, Allen Stayman. Abramoff stated that the leak of the memo planted "the seeds of my break from the firm."  He wrote that fellow Preston Gates lobbyist, Manny Rouvelas told him, "Jack at the rate you're going, you're either going to be dead, disgraced, or in jail in five years."  He predicted two out of three.


Anonymous said...

What was Brenda Tenorio's appointed position in Frolin's administration? Anyone know this?

Anonymous said...

Brenda was a special assistant for the Environment or something to that nature I believe.

sounds like an interesting and perhaps nauseating read. From what you posted I can see that it will mostly be a bunch of BS.