Prior to Jack Abramoff’s recent sentencing in Florida his friends and acquaintances sent the judge a stream of risible letters pleading for leniency. Abramoff would lend his friends and neighbors money, save a little girl’s hamster, and use stolen money from Indian tribes to donate to your campaign committee… oh wait, forget about that last one. See, Abramoff was a good guy with a big heart who got caught up in the corrupt world of Washington. There’s just something in the air here that makes you want to steal tens of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, there is a mound of evidence that shows that Abramoff was in fact of dubious character. Ken Silverstein at Harpers.org shovels some more onto that pile:
“It started when Abramoff, as Chairman of the College Republican National Committee, visited South Africa in 1983. There, he came to know Russel Crystal, a South African intelligence asset who headed a government-funded student front group. Presumably, it was Crystal who in 1986 brought Abramoff in as the first chairman of the International Freedom Foundation (IFF)—a seemingly independent right-wing group headquartered in Washington, D.C., that was effectively run from Johannesburg and given the code name “Pacman” by South African intelligence. I spoke to a source who was intimately familiar with the IFF and the key players behind it, and who asked not to be identified. “The South Africans needed front men,” he told me. “Abramoff was identified early on as an ambitious, up-and-coming American conservative who could be useful.” … Abramoff ran the IFF until he reportedly left in 1989, the year he released Red Scorpion. South Africa pulled the money plug in the fall of 1991, and the IFF sputtered on for a few more years before closing up shop. In 1995 Newsday reported that the IFF had been a South African front group. Additional details emerged in reports from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: while the IFF did generate a small part of its own income through fundraising, that was primarily to provide cover for the as much as $1.5 million per year the group received from the apartheid government. … Abramoff has never acknowledged that he knew of South African government support for the IFF, and told Newsday that the allegations that he accepted South African funds for Red Scorpion were “outrageous.” … “Yes, some people were duped by the IFF,” said my source. “But Jack was not one of them. As chairman [of the IFF], he understood where the money was coming from. He knew exactly who he was playing with.” A second source, who also asked not to be identified, agreed: “The only reason that Dolph Lundgren and Grace Jones were traipsing around Namibia was that the movie was an official propaganda project.”
Abramoff has said he was embarrassed by the violence and profanity in Red Scorpion (he blamed the film’s director, Joseph Zito), and after Red Scorpion was finished he even created the short-lived Committee for Traditional Jewish Values in Entertainment to fight sex and violence in film. But his values didn’t preclude him from taking a helping hand from the apartheid government of South Africa. And certainly it appears that Abramoff learned the tricks he brought to the lobbying trade—cut-outs, bogus charities, financial trickery, and double- and triple-budgeted projects—from his friends at South African intelligence.
The number of oppresive governments that Abramoff has worked for (or tried to work for) should remove any belief that this man is of good character.