Jan. 16, 2006 issue - First came the dinner invitations, then the tickets. Staffers in the office of former House Majority leader Tom DeLay could dine--usually, free of charge--at Signatures, the expense-account restaurant conveniently owned by lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Then they could sit in his skybox at Washington's MCI Center, home of the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals. Before too long, recalled a former GOP leadership aide--who, like almost anyone on Capitol Hill these days, declines to be identified talking about his relationship with Abramoff--the DeLay staffers began to think that Abramoff's box at the arena was their box, and, in the cozy way of Washington, it might as well have been. "Jack was sort of like a drug dealer," said the former staffer. "He'd give them [DeLay's staffers] a little taste and then get them hooked."
It may be convenient for Hill staffers to think of Abramoff as insidious, subtly corrupting idealistic but naive public servants. Actually, Abramoff was about as subtle as a madam in a whorehouse. He milked (and bilked) clients exuberantly. "Guess what I just scored?" he e-mailed his old friend, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, celebrating the Gulfstream jet that he had arranged to fly their party (including Congressman Robert Ney) to Scotland for a weeklong golf junket. "Fire-up the jet baby, we're going to El Paso!!" he wrote his partner--and former DeLay press aide--Michael Scanlon, announcing the acquisition of a Texas Indian tribe, the Tiguas, as a lobbying client. "I want all their MONEY!!!" replied Scanlon. "Yawzah!" chimed in Abramoff.