Casino Jack Squeals On the System That Fueled His Crimes


“Capitol Punishment” is unquestionably the true and unfiltered voice of Mr. Abramoff. This is an autobiography skillfully and entertainingly rendered by Mr. Abramoff’s own hand — it is not the typical “as told to (ghost writers)” quickie publication seeking to capitalize upon fleeting fame or notoriety of its subject. If one reads the book with an open mind – putting aside Mr. Abramoff’s public image, the sensationalistic media coverage of his case, and the narrative approach previously adopted by sundry book authors and Hollywood producers – one will be well rewarded with invaluable first-hand insights regarding the Washington milieu in which Mr. Abramoff operated.

Those interested in the U.S. political and legislative process – as it really is in practice, not as it is presented in college Political Science 101 textbooks, and not as cleansed or caricatured by the nation’s mainstream media – will find this book to be very illuminating reading.

The book is neither about self-justification nor “payback.” The author understandably – and quite successfully — seeks to present his story in shadings and nuances rather than in monochrome caricatures. His impish humor is easily seen in choice of the book’s title. He is unexpectedly generous in his comments on virtually all of those who investigated, prosecuted and incarcerated him. It must be added that he lobs a few hand grenades in the direction of certain elected politicians and political operatives whose public pose of piety was, in Mr. Abramoff’s view, at stark variance with private behavior.

The book offers unexpectedly sentimental memories and wry vignettes of childhood exploits (weight-lifting, football) and failures (school elections); of close family ties and of friendships (enduring and betrayed); of college-years politicking on behalf of the Republican Party that brought him early national attention; of meetings with President Reagan and other Republican Party leaders; of his hilariously abortive foray into Hollywood film-making; and of his deep and abiding religious faith.

It is perhaps worth underlining: Mr. Abramoff did not create the milieu in which Washington lobbyists, elected politicians, congressional staff and executive branch policy makers and regulators exist in a symbiotic relationship. The nexus of political power and special interests – fueled by reciprocal favors and campaign contributions — long predated his arrival on the Washington scene. This scene has surely survived his personal fall from grace. What comes through clearly in Mr. Abramoff’s autobiography is that he brought his formidable energy, intellect, political savvy, creativity and competitive drive to bear on what he found. He took full advantage of an opaque scene and its murky ground rules, aggressively pressing his clients’ causes and — by his own admission born of sober reflection — sometimes pressing the envelope and crossing the line of propriety, good judgment and even legality.

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Mr. Abramoff’s presentation of all this – thoughtful and frequently unsparing of himself – is important for two reasons:

(1) it offers vivid testimony to the way “things work” in Washington, especially the lamentably seamy inner workings of the legislative process and the climate of behavior and expectations fostered by the insatiable need by members of Congress to keep filled their campaign coffers; and

(2) it suggests reform measures to discourage tacit “buying” of congressional support for special interest legislation, to foster greater sunlight and transparency, and to halt both the “revolving door” and the easy workarounds of existing “ethics” laws and regulations.

Speaking authoritatively as one who understood and used to maximum advantage the existing system, Mr. Abramoff argues strongly both for congressional term limits and for explicit statutes barring any member of Congress or congressional staff from engaging in future lobbying/influence efforts vis- -vis Congress or the executive branch. He observes – again, the voice of experience – that such measures would go far toward denying lobbyists the ability to cultivate long-term, potentially corrupting relationships with Congress (both members and staff) based upon current favors and the hope or expectation of highly remunerative future employment with a law firm, “government relations” firm or other lobbying practice.

Beyond all this, Mr. Abramoff’s autobiography is a highly entertaining read – sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, as when he describes his early trials and tribulations as Hollywood producer of the 1989 action flick “Red Scorpion” starring Dolph Lundgren (of “Rocky” fame) and filmed in southern Africa. As one of the relatively few Americans who also once set foot in the southern Africa landlocked mountain kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho, I can personally attest that Mr. Abramoff has captured brilliantly the sheer comic weirdness of that scene.

He has similarly drawn a very powerful and sadly amusing word portrait of the political antics in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. His account of his adventures with Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, whom he informally counseled on political-financial challenges mounted by her enemies in Manila, is simultaneously funny, eye-opening and poignant. In all of these extended anecdotes, every word rings true – often lamentably so.

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