"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Thursday, June 23, 2005
In September 2000, before he became a target of federal investigations, Jack Abramoff was blazing a trail as a superlobbyist for Seattle-based Preston Gates & Ellis, bringing in millions of dollars in fees and earning a reputation as one of the town's premier influence traffickers.
So it wasn't surprising that Abramoff was nominated to join the Cosmos Club, one of Washington's most selective private clubs. For Abramoff, it was a major honor and yet another avenue to pursue his trade.
But Abramoff worried that his resume wasn't substantial enough to compete with a membership that includes senior government officials, ambassadors, Nobel Prize winners and business leaders.
The solution, Abramoff decided, was Mercer Island rabbi and Seattle talk-show host Daniel Lapin.
Lapin is far more than a local rabbi. He is a major player in the conservative religious movement, well known for his Toward Tradition, an organization that has a goal of "working to advance our nation toward the traditional Judeo-Christian values."
It was Lapin who introduced Abramoff to House Speaker Tom DeLay of Texas. Abramoff, in turn, helped Lapin establish Toward Tradition, and he named Lapin's brother, David, to a position at Eshkol Academy, a now-defunct private school in Columbia, Md., created by Abramoff that promised a high-quality Orthodox Jewish education.
Toward Tradition was just the kind of outfit Abramoff needed.
In an e-mail to Lapin on Sept. 15, 2000, with "HELP!" in the subject line, Abramoff described his dilemma. "Most prospective members have received awards and I have received none," he wrote.
"I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficient academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?"
Aside from the mendacity on display here, I am struck by the thought that Abramoff really believed an "award" naming him Scholar of Talmudic Studies, issued by Lapin's little vanity project, would be just the thing to impress an audience of senior government officials, ambassadors, Nobel Prize winners and business leaders. It's funny, in a sad way.