Waxman calls on McCain to give back Reed's money
House Oversight chair Henry Waxman joined a media conference call this morning to recap the connections between Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff. I was on the call. What follows is my summary and analysis.
I've added a fair amount of context to make the conversation intelligible to non-Abramoff buffs. So, unless I specifically attribute a claim to Waxman, blame me.
The call was convened because Ralph Reed is set to hold a fundraiser for John McCain on Monday, which McCain plans to attend.
Waxman is calling on McCain to cancel the event and give back all Reed's money.
In his prepared statement, Waxman reviewed the highlights of the sprawling email record linking Reed and Abramoff as "conspirators in a money laundering scheme."
The Chairman's message was clear: Reed wasn't just some hapless subcontractor who got paid with Abramoff's dirty money, he was an integral partner a scheme to bilk Indian tribes out of millions of dollars.
Waxman's committee did its own Abramoff investigation focusing on the lobbyist's contacts with the White House, so he has his Abramology down pat.
In one notorious episode in their long and profitable collaboration, Abramoff hired Reed to help defeat a 1999 lottery ballot initiative in Alabama. Reed's job was to drum up evangelical opposition to the measure. The operation was bankrolled by the Mississippi Choctaw Indians with a view to quashing potential competition for their casino.
Obviously, the former head of the Christian Coalition couldn't openly accept gambling money as part of a scheme to force Alabamians to patronize casinos. So, Abramoff arranged to launder the money through various think tanks and non-profits.
Abramoff would give the money to an innocuous-sounding intermediary and the intermediary pass it on to Reed. Millions of dollars flowed from Indian casinos into Ralph Reed's pocket and Republican campaign coffers.
Sometimes, Reed's money came through front companies owned on paper by Abramoff's chief accomplice, Michael Scanlon, Waxman said.
I think this is a key point because the Scanlon front companies were the linchpin of the Gimme Five kickback scandal.
Abramoff and Scanlon charged the tribes vastly inflated fees, "hired" Scanlon's company to do nothing, and split the take between them.
Trying to conceal the source of legit money for purely political reasons isn't money laundering. Abramoff was a legitimate Choctaw lobbyist who paid Reed to do something sleazy and underhanded. Still, Reed did real work riling up "the wackos," as Scanlon famously called the evangelical base.
However, trying to conceal the source of money obtained through a crime is money laundering. Scanlon's companies existed as receptacles for funds obtained by deceit. The secrecy was concealing the fact that Abramoff and Scanlon were routing this money to their friend Reed.
John McCain's decision to attend Ralph Reed's event raised eyebrows. McCain lead the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation of Abramoff's dealings with the tribes.
"McCain likes to brag that he took on Jack Abramoff," Waxman said.
Waxman noted that despite Reed's pivotal role in the Indian gaming scandal, McCain didn't even call Reed to testify at the Indian Affairs hearing.
One reporter asked Waxman about the tens of thousands of documents McCain assembled in the course of his investigation but refuses to release to the public.
Waxman told us that John McCain has documents that even the House Oversight Committee couldn't get.
Brad Woodhouse of the DNC speculated that McCain embarked on his Abramoff investigation with one eye towards good government and "one eye towards protecting [certain] people." He didn't elaborate on who those people were.
Waxman disagreed. He said he was prepared to give McCain the benefit of the doubt. However, Waxman continued, given that McCain was so deeply immersed in the Abramoff scandal, he knows exactly how corrupt Ralph Reed really is.