By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff has had a full-blown aesthetic meltdown. He has leapt into an abyss of ill-fitting coats, mobster flourishes and Peter Pan headgear. The once high-flying dealmaker is going down, and there is nothing dignified about the descent.
After pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials with luxury golf outings, free food and tickets to sporting events, Abramoff emerged from U.S. District Court in Washington on Tuesday dressed like a crime boss. He could not have appeared more guilty, more menacing and more unsympathetic than if he had walked out wielding a baseball bat and muttering something about so-and-so sleeping with the fishes.
Abramoff was standing next to his attorney Abbe Lowell, who was looking extremely well-paid in a dark pinstriped suit, white shirt, pocket square and a blue-and-white tie. Lowell's fee apparently does not include meaningful wardrobe advice, since his client was wearing a black trench coat and black fedora. Like bad luck Schleprock, Abramoff appeared to be dressed for his own personal monsoon.
The fact that the coat looked to be a tad too small was the least of Abramoff's wardrobe problems. He had the double-breasted coat neatly buttoned, but it was so sloppily belted under his belly that it was almost comical in its allusions to two-bit thugs, flashers and other unsavory characters. He had what appeared to be a snap-brim fedora pulled low over his face. Abramoff didn't just look like a lawbreaker; he looked shadowy, threatening and downright creepy. Was he doing some sort of visual penance for all his transgressions?
Over the course of the Justice Department's investigation of Abramoff, much has been reported about his fascination with "The Godfather," his self-proclaimed religious reawakening sparked by "Fiddler on the Roof," and his personal dabbling in moviemaking. It's hard not to connect his jarring costume choices this week with those Hollywood touchstones.
There has been some discussion around offices and on the Internet that Abramoff, in his time of stress, has drawn more closely to his faith. Because he is a practicing Orthodox Jew, some have suggested that his black attire and his hat are a reflection of religiosity, and not a homage to Don Vito Corleone. It is true that those who are facing prison time -- and Abramoff's plea deal suggests he will get 9 1/2 to 11 years -- often draw closer to their Creator. So it may be that the Almighty was on Abramoff's mind.
But when a man emerges from a courthouse looking solemn and grim, his weightlifter shoulders shrouded in a trench coat, his eyes shaded by the brim of a black hat and his lawyer at his side, any signs of God, prayer and "I'm so sorry" are overshadowed by allusions to thuggishness -- the organized, conspiratorial, horse's-head-in-the-bed variety.
On Wednesday, Abramoff was in a Miami court, where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. For this occasion he shed the trench coat and exchanged the fedora for a baseball cap. He wore the hat with his business suit -- a carefree, slacker combination that made one think of his Hollywood days in the late 1980s and early '90s as a producer of the D-list films "Red Scorpion" and "Red Scorpion 2." All he needed was a cell phone the size of a shoe and a flashy, overcompensating sports car.
The hat was embroidered with the word "Cascata," which is a fancy golf resort outside Las Vegas. Cascata's Web site says that "few places on Earth offer such extravagance."
For a man who had just pleaded guilty to bribing government officials with fancy golfing trips -- albeit to a resort in Scotland -- his choice of headgear seemed brazen, inappropriate and not very smart for anyone interested in projecting dignity through attire. But then maybe Abramoff figures dignity, at this stage, is a pipe dream. A hat -- any hat -- at least offers a false sense of camouflage and protection. It's what celebrities wear when they don't want to be recognized.
Whatever might have been churning through Abramoff's mind as he rummaged through his closet this week, dressing himself for public scrutiny, the resulting ensembles suggested a man grasping at fiction, fabrication and invention. The lobbyist who had once been so good at reading other people no longer knew what to make of himself.