Jack Abramoff is a man who knows his audience.
On his promotional tour touting his new book, he customizes the message depending on the crowd. Speaking at his World Net Daily book party? He’ll crack wise about the “bolsheviks” at MSNBC. Speaking on MSNBC? He’ll have a go-to quote about what he calls Newt Gingrich’s corruption.
No doubt Abramoff has been keeping busy these days, writing opinion columns for Reuters, doing television and radio interviews and trying to buy JackAbramoff.com back from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Now he’s an official WND columnist.
So how did a guy — who was not so long ago the public face of all that was wrong with Washington — go from holding the levers of political power, to cooling his heels in federal prison, to now claiming to be a good government reformer while cozying up to the editorial hub of the conspiracy-obsessed right-wing fringe?
In an interview with TPM, Abramoff said he’s not concerned with what people think.
“My life is so different now than what it was, some things I don’t care about,” Abramoff said. “When you’re laying in the bottom of the gutter, and you’re considered the lowest of the low.. you don’t think of some of these things, you don’t care.”
But for a man who claims to be coming back with a serious message, why partner with WND?
“It basically came about because I talked to major publishers and the lag time between when they wanted to put the book out and when I wanted to put the book out we significant,” Abramoff said. “World Net Daily is the only publisher which stepped up and said we can get your book out in the time you want, so I went with them. And I have to tell you, I’m very pleased with them, they’re very professional, the quality of their work is outstanding. They’re in the news on their own issues, but as far as my book, I couldn’t ask for someone to do a better job.”
As for accusations that his conversion on lobbying reform isn’t the real deal, he says his views aren’t politically motivated.
“I sort of don’t look at it as left or right, I look at it as right or wrong,” Abramoff said. “I think what’s amazing, what I’ve found it — obviously I’ve been on the right my whole life and many issues I am obviously — but by my speaking out like this, and particularly because of who I am, I’ve found a tremendous reception amongst most progressive and liberal folks.”
Abramoff said he hopes there can be a coalition on the left and right to pass some of the items on his agenda.
“I want to try to apply the skills I do have, in terms of the lobbying, politics and the rest, to see if there’s a way to move along an agenda to get this cleaned up. Again, I’m not going to be the lobbyist or the front guy up there or whatever, but I know sort of how the system plays and works. To the degree I can now apply this positively and helpfully, I want to do that. Certainly, at minimum, I want to go about informing people what’s going on and get their ire up so that they themselves focus on this,” Abramoff said.
“Needless to say, I’m never going to return to the lobbying world as a lobbyist, so I need to see what my skill set is and see where it can be applicable to anything,” he said.
There’s been a mixed reaction to Abramoff’s return in the reform world, as some question his motives.
“I get the question often, why should we believe you, how do we know you’re sincere. My answer is I don’t really care if you think I’m sincere. I’m not here to please anybody, I’m not here to run for office, I’m not trying to come out of my shell so I can make everyone like me again, I don’t think that’s possible,” Abramoff said. “The only thing I’m doing is trying to make available what I know from my experience so that we can fix this.”
There’s no doubt Abramoff has had a lot of time to think about his next moves. He served nearly four years of a six year sentence. He said that he thinks he was treated fairly by federal prosecutors.
“I thought they were extremely professional,” Abramoff said. “Look they put me in prison for a long time. It’s not like I want to go out and buy them gold watches. But I’m trying to approach life in a way that looks at my situation and how I was and how others were honestly. And I can’t be but honest but saying they were fair. They were professional and they were fair.”
But what about the way they treated his former aide Kevin Ring? Wasn’t their original request for a jail sentence of 17 to 22 years pretty excessive? “I was not happy about that,” says Abramoff. “I don’t know all the circumstances there, but I certainly have tremendous compassion for Kevin and I felt terrible for him… I spent a lot more time in jail than Kevin will, thank God, in the sense that I don’t want Kevin to be in prison, I don’t want anybody to be in prison.”
Like many high-profile politicos who have done a few years in the pen, Abramoff too thinks there’s a need for prison reform.
“I think with each and every one, pains me to see anybody go to prison. You don’t want to spend a night in prison, I spent 1299 nights there. It’s horrific,” Abramoff said. “Even people I don’t like, I don’t want to see them go to prison, but it is what it is, people have got to deal with what they’ve got to deal with. I feel compassion for anybody that is in the predicament that I am in, or am in.”
“The problem with prisons today is that they’re storage houses, not rehabilitation centers, and that I think is an injustice,” Abramoff said. “I know that America has a punitive streak in it, that it likes to see people punished for better or for worse, but the truth is it would be far better to try to make these felons as productive as possible in society,”