During Wednesday’s balmy afternoon, a familiar scene in Washington unfolded: there was Jack Abramoff, sitting in his usual window seat at Eli’s, the kosher Dupont Circle deli, greeting the regulars.
It was like the ex-lobbyist had never left. By “left,” we mean “was incarcerated in the federal pen,” and by “ex-lobbyist,” we mean “convicted felon.”
Such semantics aside, it seems Abramoff’s redemption tour is complete. He’s never been more visible — you can catch him on the cable-news circuit, commenting on the need for lobbying reform, or blasting GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich (another comeback kid) for, of all things, corruption.
At Eli’s, he had traded that iconic fedora — a reminder of the old Jack — for a black velvet yarmulke, a subtle reminder of his faith.
He’s got a book out (really, who doesn’t these days?). And on Monday, he’ll be giving a talk in the venerated halls of watchdog group Public Citizen, where he’ll be outlining his proposals for cleaning up the influence industry.
Public Citizen president Robert Weissman tells us that his organization reached out to Abramoff — not the other way around. He thought the former lobbyist actually has some pretty good ideas for reforming the system governing lobbying.
“We’re not inviting him here to give him a citizen of the year award,” he says.
Abramoff’s carefully constructed makeover from ex-con to reformer might rely on the Washington establishment’s willingness to buy it, and Weissman says he’s got the goods to sell. “He has credibility in explaining how lobbyists exert influence, and it’s not important to us what his motivations are,” he said.