Notorious former lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a free man again, after serving three and a half years in prison for corruption and fraud. In an interview aired by CBS on Sunday, he told correspondent Leslie Stahl about the tricks of his former trade.
Abramoff, who readily admits to his former corrupt activities, told Stahl, "I was actually thinking of writing a book -- The Idiot's Guide to Buying a Congressman -- as a way to put this all down. First, I think most congressmen don't feel they're being bought. Most congressmen, I think, can in their own mind justify the system -- rationalize it -- and, by the way, we wanted as lobbyists for them to feel that way."
"I spent over a million dollars a year on tickets to sporting events and concerts and what not at all the venues," Abramoff boasted. He insisted, however, that the very best way to buy the favors of a Congressional office is to offer the chief of staff a job.
"When we would become friendly with an office," he explained, "and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, 'You know, when you're done working on the Hill, we'd very much like you to consider coming to work for us.' Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to 'em, that was it. We owned them."
He told Stahl that he exercised that kind of influence in a hundred different Congressional offices and that many members of Congress could have been charged with crimes for the favors they did him.
"I think people are under the impression that the corruption only involves somebody handing over a check and getting a favor," Abramoff explained. "And that's not the case. The corruption -- the bribery call it, because ultimately that's what it is -- that's what the whole system is. ... The truth is there were very few members who I could even name or could think of who didn't at some level participate in that."
Abramoff doesn't put much faith in the reforms that have been enacted since his own downfall. He pointed out, "You can't take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak of something like that. But you can take him to a fundraising lunch and not only buy him that steak but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fundraiser. ... The system hasn't been cleaned up at all."
It is not altogether clear from the interview, however, how truly repentant Abramoff is. When Stahl told him that the things he was describing made her "sick to my stomach," he almost seemed to be laughing as he agreed, "Right. Evil. Yeah. Terrible. Shameful. Absolutely."
This video is from CBS News, November 6, 2011.