Lobbyist Abramoff Says GOP Elite Know Him Well

Convicted felon and former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff recently granted a rare press interview to Vanity Fair magazine, where he asserts President Bush and other prominent figures in Washington know him very well. He called them liars for denying contact with him. Madeleine Brand speaks with Vanity Fair reporter David Margolick about Abramoff's claims.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Fortunes in Washington can turn on a dime. Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a great example. He's become a leper in a town he once commanded. Abramoff has admitted to all sorts of corrupt acts and now he's cooperating with prosecutors and that makes a lot of people on Capitol Hill nervous. Almost everyone has distanced themselves from him.

But Abramoff tells David Margolick in the April issue of Vanity Fair that any important Republican who comes out and says they didn't know me is almost certainly lying. And David Margolick joins me now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID MARGOLICK (Writer, Vanity Fair): Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: Not surprisingly, Abramoff has given very few interviews, if any, since this lobbying scandal broke. So why did he agree to talk with you?

Mr. MARGOLICK: He wanted to come across publicly as a more three-dimensional human being than the sort of cartoon character who's emerged in the press. And I think he was really just looking for an outlet to express himself.

BRAND: And he really does, in some parts of your article, come out swinging. He seems angry to be, as you put it, airbrushed out of a town where he once held so much sway. And he basically accuses the President and the top Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of lying when they say they don't know him.

Mr. MARGOLICK: Well, it was interesting because he's selectively outspoken. I mean as I try to write in the story, he's very tactical about what he'll say. You know, he's very careful, he doesn't want to offend the Justice Department, which basically has his fate in its hands, or the judge who's going to be sentencing him. But on the other hand, when people pretend that he didn't exist at all or that they didn't know him when they you know dined at his table and took his money and bestowed favors on him and all of this, he gets very angry.

BRAND: Now, he actually showed you photos of himself with these figures, and tell us about that.

Mr. MARGOLICK: Well, he showed me pictures, he went through, when I was with him once, he went through a box of pictures and happened to come across a cache of Newt Gingrich pictures. Now, Newt Gingrich, Newt Gingrich's spokesman had said to me that Gingrich wouldn't know Abramoff if he tripped over him. And so Abramoff is going through these pictures and there's one picture of Newt after another. Here's Newt, there's Newt, another picture of Newt, and he just sort of narrated as he went through the pile of pictures going through all of the people who no longer know him.

As far as Bush is concerned, he did show me pictures of himself with Bush. I mean these are the famous pictures, the much coveted pictures of him with Bush. He said that he'd been offered as much as a million dollars to print these pictures, for the rights to these pictures. And I think that he was tempted to do it but it turns out that the Democrats had said if these pictures are printed we're going to make hay of them and Abramoff remains a deeply partisan person. He still thinks of himself as a partisan Republican despite everything. And he thought why should I give aid and comfort to the enemy. So he wouldn't release these pictures.

BRAND: I'm wondering about those photos with President Bush. You saw those photos?

Mr. MARGOLICK: I did see some of the pictures. I mean some of them, they're, they're actually, they're not terribly incriminating. I mean some of them are just the grip and grin variety where they're standing together looking very staged and stayed and formal. But I think that the point that he makes is a good one that, that he was never in fact all that close to Bush, but the White House has made a great issue out of it by denying that they had any connection at all.

BRAND: Does Abramoff seem contrite to you or does he believe that he's being unfairly targeted for, in effect, doing his job too well?

Mr. MARGOLICK: Part of this is a matter of conviction, and part of it is a matter of tactics. He's lost this battle already and the only course of action really for him at this point is contrition, and is spilling the beans, is talking about everybody. This is the one weapon he has in his holster and this is what he's doing.

BRAND: Reporter David Margolick, his article on Jack Abramoff is in the April edition of Vanity Fair magazine. And David Margolick, thank you very much.

Mr. MARGOLICK: Oh, it's my pleasure Madeleine, thank you.

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