Correction to This Article
A Dec. 29 article about former lobbyist Jack Abramoff cited an incorrect date for an e-mail he sent about client bills. The e-mail was sent in April 2001, not April 2000. A Dec. 29 article misstated the position once held by the father of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Frank Abramoff was president of the franchises unit of Diners Club, not the parent company.
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The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff

Mysterious Entrance

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When Republicans wrested control of the House from the Democrats in 1994, Abramoff turned his focus back to Washington politics. With Norquist's help, he reinvented himself as a Republican lobbyist on heavily Democratic K Street. Norquist was one of the intellectual architects of the Republican Revolution and a muse for its leader, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), soon to be speaker of the House.

Abramoff also counted on his father, who had a wealth of connections from his days as president of the Diners Club credit card company. Frank Abramoff had once looked into operating a casino in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. territory that includes Saipan. He introduced his son around, and the Marianas became one of the first important clients of the new lobbyist.

Soon the younger Abramoff developed a key alliance with Rep. Tom DeLay, a conservative Republican from Texas who was working his way up in the House leadership. The two met at a DeLay fundraiser on Capitol Hill in 1995, according to a former senior DeLay aide. The aide recalled that Edwin A. Buckham, then DeLay's chief of staff, told his boss: "We really need to work with Abramoff; he is going to be an important lobbyist and fundraiser."

DeLay, a Christian conservative, did not quite know what to make of Abramoff, who wore a beard and a yarmulke. They forged political ties, but the two men never became personally close, according to associates of both men.

Almost from the start, Abramoff struck some rival lobbyists as a strange figure who operated on the margins. He even turned up as a representative of the Pakistani military when Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto went to Washington in 1995 to seek the return of $600 million the Islamabad government had paid for 28 F-16 fighters. The sale had been blocked by the U.S. government over concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program.

Bhutto's Washington lobbyists were at the Pakistani Embassy savoring her successful meeting with President Bill Clinton when a man in a suit made a mysterious entrance.

"Suddenly, this portly guy steps in and sits down. He says nothing," recalled one of the lobbyists. The Americans asked him to introduce himself. He folded his arms and refused.

"Finally, he says, 'I am Jack Abramoff,' " recalled the lobbyist, a well-connected Democrat. They had never heard of him. Abramoff explained that he was "close to Newt."

The astonished lobbyists for Bhutto learned that Abramoff had traveled to Islamabad and had sold his services to the Pakistani military without the prime minister's knowledge.

In the Senate, Abramoff befriended Republicans and their staffers, along with some Democrats on the appropriations committees. In August 1999, he signed up for the National Republican Senatorial Committee's "Tartan Invitational," in which a half-dozen Republican senators and their aides spent a few days with about 50 lobbyists golfing at the exclusive St. Andrews Links in Scotland.

The following year, Abramoff figured out how to use his clients to fund his own trips to St. Andrews with lawmakers. The first guests were DeLay and his aides.

Team Abramoff

With Norquist's help, Abramoff secured a spot on the transition team for the Interior Department after George W. Bush was elected president in 2000. He tried to place several officials in Interior, including an unsuccessful attempt to land a former Marianas official in the top spot overseeing U.S. territories.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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