Citizen K Street: Chapter 24
Tainted by Abramoff
Thursday, April 5, 2007; 5:00 PM
When the Miami-based law firm of Greenberg Traurig pushed Jack Abramoff out of its Washington office in early March 2004, one of the most successful lobbyists ever to work in Washington suddenly found himself on the street, looking for a new situation.
To be sure, he was carrying baggage: ten days earlier The Washington Post had published an expos? of Abramoff's dealings with Indian tribes, reporting that he and a secret partner had been paid $45 million by four tribal clients over the previous three years. Greenberg Traurig heightened the sense of an unraveling scandal with its March 3 statement announcing Abramoff's departure from the firm, which revealed that six days earlier, Abramoff had "disclosed ..... for the first time personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable to the firm."
The Post story and subsequent firing created a sensation in the lobbying community. The Senate Indian Affairs committee announced its intention to investigate Abramoff. This was the beginning of the biggest lobbying scandal in modern Washington history.
Nevertheless, Gerald Cassidy decided he ought to meet Abramoff to explore whether he might like to work at Cassidy & Associates. "I had never met him until the day I talked to him about being a consultant," Cassidy said in an interview. As a consultant Abramoff would be expected to bring clients to the firm and would be paid a percentage of whatever fees those clients paid to Cassidy -- typically ten percent. Cassidy said he was also interested in several of the lobbyists who had worked with Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig.
Abramoff's appeal to Cassidy was obvious: He made rain. This is the expression lawyers and lobbyists use for attracting clients, and Abramoff was a peerless rainmaker. In the three years that he worked at the firm, Greenberg Traurig's reported annual lobbying revenue rose from $3.49 million to $25.5 million, more than a sevenfold increase.
In the year prior to Abramoff's firing, 2003, Cassidy & Associates had fallen out of first place in the table of lobbying firms' total revenues for the first time since the records were kept electronically. [view the table at opensecrets.org] Its reported income that year was $27.99 million. Cassidy was always hungry for revenue, and losing first place to the law firm of Patton Boggs (revenue: $30.03 million) was an added incentive. He needed a rainmaker.
Cassidy said "a mutual friend" called him after Greenberg Traurig dumped Abramoff to suggest that the two men should get together. This may have been Arthur Mason, a colorful Republican lobbyist in the Cassidy firm who had been a guest in Abramoff's box at Fed Ex field and admired his pizzazz, according to several colleagues. Mason acknowledged that Abramoff had called him after being fired, to ask if there might be interest in him at Cassidy & Associates. But Abramoff called other people as well, Mason said. Cassidy declined to name the intermediary, but he did recount the message that was conveyed to him:
"There was a lot of talk amongst people who were friends of Abramoff -- and a lot of people who were friends of Abramoff were very nice people, were very good people -- that he had made a lot of money for Greenberg Traurig and that they had made a very bad decision about not defending him, and that what he was doing was defendable and defensible, and that he had a story to tell and that it would come out."
The intermediary "was somebody who knew Gerry very well," said Cassidy's longtime lawyer and partner, Lester "Ruff" Fant, when he heard this account. "He always has this intense loyalty to the underdog. Whoever told him 'this man is getting screwed' knew Gerry very well and knew that he would be sympathetic and try to help someone who was getting screwed."
Mason ushered Abramoff into Cassidy's corner office one day that March, according to colleagues in the office. Cassidy, then 63, had never previously met Abramoff, who had just turned 46. "Other people said he was a good guy," Cassidy said, sitting in the same office where this meeting had taken place. "He was very charming when he was in here, very charming," Cassidy remembered. "He was very impressive on how he would approach things, so we hired him on a consulting basis."
On March 23, three weeks after Greenberg Traurig had fired him, Cassidy and Abramoff struck a deal. Cassidy would pay Abramoff and give him an office in anticipation of the commissions they both expected him to make by referring clients to the Cassidy firm. And he would hire three Abramoff sidekicks, including Todd Boulanger, probably Abramoff's closest day-to-day associate at Greenberg Traurig.
Wasn't it the prospect of Abramoff bringing in more revenue that led Cassidy to offer him a job? "Yeah, but the revenue wasn't assured," Cassidy said. "This was prospective revenue. I was counting that this charming guy who had built a big business would be able to find business. And I wasn't making him an employee, I was simply making him a consultant. And I thought it would be helpful in getting the three people I was trying to get" -- the three former Greenberg Traurig lobbyists whom Cassidy did hire.