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August 15, 2008

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.


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Every time I hear the name Ralph "The Piously Self-Ordained" Reed, I think of the character played by Rob Lowe in the movie, "Contact," starring Jodi Foster. Rob Lowe was a clear dead-ringer, looks-wise, for a thinly veiled stand in for Reed. I liked the way the writers and director presented his character. There was just enough religiosity to see what appeals to the fundamentalist, Christian right; and there was just enough oozing self-righteous to expose him as a self-serving hypocrite.


Great reporting.

Wasn't Matthew McConaughey playing the spiritual adviser in Contact?

Regardless...One should not be surprised to find John McCain reaching to the bottom of the republican barrel for money and political freebies. It's par for the course.

This election is probably McCain's last honest shot at the White House and no one can hold him back. He'll do whatever it takes, even if it means getting into bed with Ralph Reed and losing character points with those of us who remember his term as Indian Affairs Chairman. (How fast do collective memories evaporate? I guess the answer is one election cycle or less. I am not so sure that McCain would have had the guts or political expediency to ask for Ralph Reed's assistance two years ago.)

What's McCain hiding? He's probably hiding more accomplices to Abramhoff's schemes. If McCain could keep the damage to a few 'bad apples', and allow the rest of the complicit republicans who participated (and have yet to be questioned/charged) from getting into trouble or undue media attention then that must be considered a win. Now that McCain is running for president, all of this can be neatly swept under the rug. Kudos to the democrats for bringing this out into the open once again. I never felt comfortable with the findings of the Indian Affairs committee when McCain was running the show. Perhaps it's time for Sen. Byron Dorgan to reopen the investigation, and finish what John McCain was unable or unwilling to do.

I think Mr. Woodhouse hit is right on with his analysis, despite Mr. Waxman's disagreement.

Thanks for sharing the notes, Lindsey.


Matthew McConaughey was miscast as a theologian/spiritual adviser who had the hots for Jodi Foster's character.

Rob Lowe's character was an influential power broker who spoke for the equivalent of Ralph "God blessed me" Reed's Christian Coalition.

My favorite part of the movie was the action sequence beginning with Jodi Foster's first detection of a nonrandom signal through her headset and then calling it in to her crew.

My favorite line was, "Not if they use their laser blasters and photon torpedos."

Nice work LB. In the interest of fair and balanced blogging however, Mr. Reed -the evangelical Dorian Gray- should also be heard. (8/8/04 at Grace Baptist Church Hiram, GA. Scroll down to Ralph Reed.)

Not exactly a reverend Wright firebrand - Reed's sermon is predictable, interminable, almost as thrilling as lukewarm oatmeal.

Ralph Reed is so sleazy, so dirty. Yet he comes off so clean when they give him air or print space. Abramoff knew he was hiring the right guy, when he asked Ralph to be his cutout/hitman in the 1999 Choctaw deal.

The documents McCain quashed when he was running Indian Affairs will never see the light of day. Not only in Reed's and Abramoff's dealings with the tribes, but in many other areas.

Working on Tlingit Alaskan Diane Benson's U.S. house campaigns for the past 26 months, I've seen so many layers of disdain for Native Americans, Native Alaskans. Especially for Native American women. It is different from American prejudice toward Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, etc.

Back to Reed's persistant reappearances - he's slick, he remains connected. And, tonight, on CNN, both presidential candidates kicked off their debate/forum regime at an eliminationist megachurch, hugging a pastor who welcomes Nigerian and Ugandan clergy who fund hunting expeditions that kill hundreds of non-Christian people.

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