In the weeks ahead, a dangerous eruption is again
threatening to shake the Bush family’s image of legitimacy, as the
pressure from intersecting scandals builds.
So far, the mainstream news media has focused
mostly on the white-collar abuses of former House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay for allegedly laundering corporate donations to help Republicans
gain control of the Texas legislature, or on deputy White House chief of
staff Karl Rove for disclosing the identity of a covert CIA officer to
undercut her husband’s criticism of George W. Bush’s case for war in
Both offenses represent potential felonies, but
they pale beside new allegations linking business associates of star GOP
lobbyist Jack Abramoff – an ally of both DeLay and Rove – to the
gangland-style murder of casino owner Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, in 2001.
These criminal cases also are reminders of George
H.W. Bush’s long record of unsavory associations, including with a
Nicaraguan contra network permeated by cocaine traffickers, Rev. Sun
Myung Moon’s multi-million-dollar money-laundering operations, and
anti-communist Cuban extremists tied to acts of international terrorism.
[For details on these cases, see Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
Now, George W. Bush is faced with his own challenge
of containing a rupture of scandals – involving prominent conservatives
Abramoff, DeLay and potentially Rove – that have bubbled to the surface
and are beginning to flow toward the White House.
On Sept. 27, 2005 – in possibly the most troubling
of these cases – Fort Lauderdale police charged three men, including
reputed Gambino crime family bookkeeper Anthony Moscatiello, with
Boulis’s murder. Boulis was gunned down in his car on Feb. 6, 2001, amid
a feud with an Abramoff business group that had purchased Boulis’s
SunCruz casino cruise line in 2000.
As part of the murder probe, police are
investigating payments that SunCruz made to Moscatiello, his daughter
and Anthony Ferrari, another defendant in the Boulis murder case.
Moscatiello and Ferrari allegedly collaborated with a third man, James
Fiorillo, in the slaying. [For more on the case, see
Sun-Sentinel, Sept. 28, 2005.]
The SunCruz deal also led to the August 2005
indictment of Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, on charges of
conspiracy and wire fraud over a $60 million loan for buying the casino
company in 2000. Prosecutors allege that Abramoff and Kidan made a phony
$23 million wire transfer as a fake down payment.
In pursuing the casino deal, the Abramoff-Kidan
group got help, too, from DeLay and Rep. Robert W. Ney, R-Ohio, the
Washington Post reported. Abramoff impressed one lender by putting him
together with DeLay in Abramoff’s skybox at FedEx Field during a
football game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.
Ney placed comments in the Congressional Record
criticizing Boulis and later praising the new Abramoff-Kidan ownership
team. [Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2005]
After the SunCruz sale, tensions boiled over, as
Boulis and Kidan got into a fistfight. Kidan claimed that Boulis
threatened his life. Two months later, however, Boulis was the one who
was shot to death when a car pulled up next to him and a gunman opened
fire. Lawyers for Abramoff and Kidan say their clients know nothing
about the murder.
Police, however, are investigating financial ties
between the Abramoff-Kidan group and Moscatiello and Ferrari.
In a 2001 civil case, Kidan testified that he had
paid $145,000 to Moscatiello and his daughter, Jennifer, for catering
and other services, although court records show no evidence that
quantities of food or drink were provided. SunCruz also paid Ferrari’s
company, Moon Over Miami, $95,000 for surveillance services.
Kidan told the Miami Herald that the payments had
no connection to the Boulis murder. “If I’m going to pay to have Gus
killed, am I going to be writing checks to the killers?” Kidan asked. “I
don’t think so. Why would I leave a paper trail?”
Kidan also said he was ignorant of Moscatiello’s
past. In 1983, Moscatiello was indicted on heroin-trafficking charges
along with Gene Gotti, brother of Gambino crime boss John Gotti. Though
Gene Gotti and others were convicted, the charges against Moscatiello –
identified by federal authorities as a former Gambino bookkeeper – were
White House Ties
Abramoff’s influence has reached into
Bush’s White House, too, where chief procurement officer David H.
Safavian resigned last month and then was arrested on charges of lying
to authorities and obstructing a criminal investigation into Abramoff’s
Rep. Ney and former Christian Coalition
leader Ralph Reed were among influential Republicans who joined Safavian
and Abramoff on an infamous golf trip to Scotland in 2002. Safavian is a
former lobbying partner of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, another
pillar of right-wing politics in Washington and another longtime
Abramoff friend. [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2005]
Abramoff also has boasted of his influence with Bush’s top political
adviser Karl Rove.
While helping the scandal-plagued conglomerate Tyco International
Ltd. fend off new taxes and insure continued federal contracts, Abramoff
cited his influence with Rove as well as powerful congressmen, including
DeLay, according to a written statement by Tyco general counsel Timothy
Abramoff told Tyco officials that “he had contact with Mr. Karl Rove”
about Tyco’s concerns, said Flanigan, who made the disclosures to the
Senate during his confirmation hearing as Bush’s nominee to be deputy
A White House spokesman said Rove had no recollection of a discussion
with Abramoff about Tyco, but Rove’s personal assistant Susan Ralston
had previously worked as Abramoff’s secretary. [Washington Post, Sept.
The roots of these latest scandals reach
back a quarter century to the early days of the Reagan Revolution.
During that heady period for young conservatives,
Abramoff and Norquist won control of the
College Republicans organization in Washington, with Abramoff as
chairman and Norquist as executive director.
In the book, Gang of
Five, author Nina Easton wrote that the Abramoff-Norquist leadership
transformed the College Republicans into a “right-wing version of a
communist cell – complete with purges of in-house dissenters and covert
missions to destroy the enemy left.”
Under Abramoff and
Norquist, the College Republicans also allegedly began tapping into Rev.
Moon’s mysterious well of nearly unlimited cash. In 1983, Rep. Jim Leach
of Iowa, then chairman of the GOP’s moderate Ripon Society, released a
study saying the College Republican National Committee “solicited and
received” money from Moon’s Unification Church in 1981.
Leach said the
Korean-based Unification Church has “infiltrated the New Right
and the party it wants to control, the Republican Party, and infiltrated
the media as well.”
Before Leach could finish
the press conference, Norquist disrupted the meeting with accusations
that Leach was lying. For its part, Moon’s Washington Times dismissed
Leach’s charges as “flummeries” and mocked the Ripon Society as a
“discredited and insignificant left-wing offshoot of the Republican
To this day, largely
through lavish spending on right-wing causes, Moon has made his
cult-like movement a political powerhouse within conservative circles.
However, evidence has continued to mount that Moon’s operation is a
complex web of secretive businesses and groups that launder millions of
dollars from suspicious sources in Asia and South America into the U.S.
Moon has subsidized not
only media outlets, such as the pro-Republican Washington Times, but
conservative infrastructure, including direct-mail operations, think
tanks and political conferences. Moon’s organization also has funneled
money directly into the pockets of former President Bush and other
leading politicians. [For details, see
Secrecy & Privilege.]
Abramoff and Kidan, the co-defendants in the SunCruz fraud case, also became friends from their time with the College
After leaving the College
Republicans, Abramoff and Norquist moved over to a Reagan-support
organization called Citizens for America, which sponsored a 1985 “summit
meeting” of anti-communist “freedom fighters” from around the world.
The Nicaraguan contras –
who were gaining a reputation for brutality, corruption and drug
trafficking – were represented at the summit, as was Angolan rebel
leader Jonas Savimbi, who was condemned by human rights groups for gross
abuses, including widespread murders, rapes and mutilations.
As the Cold War was
ending in 1989, Abramoff tried his hand at movie producing, churning out
an anti-communist action thriller called “Red Scorpion,” which was
subsidized by South Africa’s white-supremacist regime. [For details, see
Tale of Red Scorpion.”]
The Republican conquest
of the U.S. Congress in 1994 gave Abramoff’s career another twist as he
found himself in position to exploit his close ties to hard-line
conservatives, such as DeLay and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Abramoff signed up with
the lobbying firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds before moving
to Greenberg Traurig.
Last year, on the tenth anniversary of the Republican takeover,
conservative writer Andrew Ferguson lamented Abramoff’s key role in
getting Republicans to forsake their rhetorical war on big government
and corruption, in favor of dividing up the spoils.
“For 25 years Abramoff
has been a key figure in the conservative movement that led to the 1994
Republican Revolution, which once promised ‘to drain the swamp’ in
Washington, D.C.,” Ferguson wrote.
But instead, Abramoff
became “the first Republican to discover that pretending to advance the
interests of conservative small-government could, for a lobbyist, be as
insanely lucrative as pretending to advance the interests of liberal
big-government,” Ferguson wrote. “The way a winner knows he’s won is by
cashing in his chips.”
Abramoff scored big by
representing Indian tribes that needed political clout for their
“Abramoff's ingenuity quickly earned him a reputation as the premier
lobbyist for Indians in Washington – though he only worked for
casino-owning tribes, who were, after all, the only ‘free market
laboratories’ that could afford Washington lobbyists. He regularly
arranged fact-finding trips for congressmen and their staffs to the
casinos, especially those with golf courses.”
Branching out, Abramoff
represented the textile industry in the Marianas islands, a U.S.
protectorate that could stick “Made in the USA” labels on clothing
produced in sweatshops free from U.S. labor regulations. Abramoff flew
in congressmen for tours and a chance to play golf at a scenic course.
DeLay was so impressed that he hailed the islands as “a perfect Petri
dish of capitalism.” [Weekly
Standard, Dec. 20, 2004]
Abramoff had learned the
flexible ethics of Washington politics during the final days of the Cold
War when ideology justified rubbing shoulders with corrupt “freedom
fighters.” But he and his legion of protégés managed to adapt those
dubious lessons to the “free market” era of Republican rule.
The end result has been a
noxious “crony capitalism” that has seeped into nearly all U.S.
government policies, from the War on Terror to the Iraq War to the
Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.
Now the ground under
George W. Bush and the Republican congressional majority is beginning to
shake as fissures crack the surface, warning of a volcanic eruption that
could transform the political landscape of