A fish story: Abramoff and DeLay

Al Kamen
Columnist December 5, 2012

At what had to be one of the most intriguing lunch tables in Washington on Tuesday, sushi was on the menu and second acts were surely a topic of conversation.

Former House majority leader Tom DeLay was lunching with disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff at a back table in Sushi Taro near Dupont Circle, a sharp-eyed source tells us. The confab sure looked like an effort to get the old band back together: The two men have a long and scandalous history together, including as traveling buddies on now-infamous trips to Scotland and the Northern Marianas Islands.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Of course, since those golden days in the early 2000s, they’ve each been convicted of felonies — DeLay for laundering political contributions, Abramoff for fraud and corruption stemming in part from his lobbying of DeLay (Abramoff served time in prison; DeLay was sentenced in 2011 to a three-year stint in the clink but has been out on bail while he appeals).

Abramoff has executed an impressive comeback (he’s got a book out, often pundit-izes on corruption and even has a gig hosting a radio show), while DeLay has kept a lower profile, taking speaking engagements and devoting time to conservative causes.

We’ve confirmed that DeLay is in Washington on business, although neither DeLay nor Abramoff got back to us to tell us what they gabbed about. Perhaps they were reminiscing about the greens at St. Andrews? Or sharing legal strategies.

Dollars and diplomats

The competition for plum ambassadorial assignments looks to be especially intense this year, and the field is larger and more qualified than ever.

The key qualification, of course, is campaign cash. And President Obama’s reelection campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, this time around boasts more than 200 mega-contributors who bundled or gave a minimum of $500,000.

We’re hearing that Team Obama folks have been quietly talking to contributors to see which of them might have “any interest in serving” in the administration. For the high rollers, “service” translates to living in a spectacular home on the Champs-Elysees or the Via Veneto.

Nearly all of the 55 or so “political” (as opposed to career Foreign Service) ambassadors, especially those who’ve been in their posts three years or more, are expected to leave — traditionally, they almost never stay for a second term — perhaps by late spring.

And obviously not all of the top bundlers are up to the rigors of the diplomatic life in Luxembourg. Nonetheless, the competition for these jobs could be brutal.

For example, when Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that Vogue editor and major Obama bundler Anna Wintour was a possible pick to be ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in London, it also noted that Matthew Barzun , who last year left his ambassadorship in Sweden early to come back and do a stunning job hoovering big bucks as Obama’s head of fundraising, was also eyeing that job. (Hey, can’t be colder than Stockholm.)

For now, we’re hearing that the administration is mostly gathering names and potential assignments, but it would behoove interested parties to call their accountants and lawyers and start getting their applications in order.

Footnote: Loop Fans may have noted that, even as the consumer price index has remained pretty stable for years, embassy prices have experienced some inflation.

A George W. Bush “Pioneer” who bundled a piddling $100,000 in 2000 would have been considered eminently qualified for a diplomatic posting. Four years later, a Bush “Ranger” ($200,000) was a good bet to snag at least Lisbon or Vienna.

In 2008, there were only about 50 half-million-dollar bundlers for Obama, so poorer people had a chance. But now $500,000 appears to be the floor.

As I said Tuesday . . .

The State Department is considering instituting an extreme version of the famous seven-second delay used to keep profanity off live TV.

The department is rewriting its rules on social media, blogging, speeches and other appearances by employees, suggesting that officials get a full two days to review an employee’s proposed tweets and five days to give a yea or nay to a blog post, speech or remarks prepared for a live event, according to the blog Diplopundit.

Two days to review and approve a tweet? Kind of defeats the insta-knee-jerk nature of the medium. And you can forget live-tweeting.

While the rules are still in draft form, they seem to be a tighter version of previous regulations. Diplopundit suggests the rewrite is a “CYA” (look it up) move in the wake of the scandal involving Peter Van Buren , the Foreign Service officer who wrote a book offering a warts-and-all account of reconstruction work in Iraq.

State Department officials would have 30 days to look over such books or longer works.

The new rules are aimed at ensuring that “protected information” (as opposed to the current rules’ narrower focus on classified information) isn’t revealed to the public, Diplopundit reports. And they’re also meant to “evaluate the potential that the employee activity could ‘hurt’ or ‘damage the Department.’ ”

Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner tells the Loop the still-in-the-works changes are merely updates “to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st-century information environment.”

We know agency budgets are tight all around, but it sounds as though the State Department had better spring for some extra red pens.

With Emily Heil

kamena@washpost.com

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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