While at the College Republicans, Abramoff, Norquist and Reed quickly earned reputations as zealots. Abramoff wrote in the 1983 annual report: "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the Left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently." The group's recruits were required to memorize a speech that included the lines: "Democrats are the enemy. Wade into them! Spill their blood!"
Two years later, Abramoff and Norquist took over Citizens for America, a conservative advocacy group created by drugstore magnate Lewis Lehrman. After the two arranged a costly "summit meeting" of anti-communist leaders in Angola, Lehrman, according to media accounts, let Abramoff and Norquist go.
In 1986, Abramoff became chairman of the International Freedom Foundation, which was secretly financed with $1.5 million a year from the white South African government, according to sworn testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mirijanian said Abramoff denies receiving money from the South African government.
Between 1986 and 1994, Abramoff was president of Regency Entertainment Group, a company that financed ideologically conservative movies, including the 1989 film "Red Scorpion."
Abramoff took a job as a Washington lobbyist for the firm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds in 1994. In its hiring announcement, the firm said that Abramoff "maintains strong ties to Speaker Newt Gingrich, Majority Leader Dick Armey, Majority Whip Tom Delay and [House] Republican Policy Committee Chairman Chris Cox and their staffs."
Using His GOP Ties
Those ties brought the Choctaws to Abramoff. To win their battle, Abramoff sought out DeLay. The two had become friends and allies in the course of Abramoff's work for conservative causes, and Abramoff had supported DeLay's bid to become whip. Abramoff also turned to Norquist.
Norquist formed a coalition of anti-tax organizations to oppose the tax on Indian casino gambling. The coalition lobbied lawmakers, wrote letters and called editorial writers. The Washington Times, a conservative newspaper, ran an editorial declaring that "Republicans should not be in the business of increasing anybody's taxes" and should "jettison the House tax on Indian gambling."
The Choctaw began contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Americans for Tax Reform and similar groups. Norquist won't disclose how much, but Abramoff told the Wall Street Journal in 2000 that the Choctaw have given "several million dollars" to outside groups, and that Americans for Tax Reform was a leading recipient.
Abramoff convinced the House whip that not only did the proposal raise taxes, but also that Indian tribes could become Republican allies . Noting that some Indians were moving toward the GOP, DeLay said in 1995 that "people recognize that Jack Abramoff has been an important part of this transition."
Later, Abramoff brought in Reed, who was paid $4.2 million from 2001 to 2003 to mobilize Christians to oppose the plans of those threatening Abramoff's Indian gaming clients. In 2001, Abramoff left Preston Gates and joined the Miami-based law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP.
In 1995, Abramoff took on another major client, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American protectorate in the Pacific. Again, he capitalized on his ability to exploit conservative ideology.
The Marianas sought to retain exemptions from U.S. immigration and labor laws to import laborers from China at $3.05 an hour -- $2 under the federal minimum wage -- to make garments labeled "Made in the U.S.A." Abramoff portrayed the Marianas as a case study of the success of the free market unfettered by wage and immigration laws.
DeLay became Abramoff's strongest ally, leading the fight against Democratic efforts to impose wage, hour and immigration regulations on the protectorate. On a trip to the Marianas, DeLay told officials, according to media accounts:
"When one of my closest and dearest friends, Jack Abramoff, your most able representative in Washington, D.C., invited me to the islands, I wanted to see firsthand the free-market success and the progress and reform you have made."
Now, however, DeLay and many of Abramoff's past friends and allies are keeping their distance. DeLay's staff has issued a statement in his name declaring that "if anybody is trading on my name to get clients or to make money, that is wrong and they should stop it immediately."
In an e-mail, Mirijanian said that Abramoff "hopes that eventually his actions will be seen in context and this difficult period will pass. When that happens, he will assess how he can best serve the causes and community he cherishes."